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Pcisible Ideas 



"One of the best presentations I 
have seen of the development of the 
idea of divine perfection." 

Union Theological Seminary 


possible ideas of God 

Frederick Sontag 

PART ONE of the book presents a 
compact and clear history of philo- 
sophical and theological thinking on 
the subject of divine perfection. Be- 
ginning with Plato and Aristotle, 
this section describes the develop- 
ment of the idea of God through 
the centuries down to the reform- 
ers and Hegel. 

PART TWO develops a modern point 
of view toward the nature of God. 
Dr. Sontag lucidly reassesses past at- 
titudes in order to show their inter- 
relationships and their meaning for 
the present and the future. 

No. 0745A 0162 

2J1 B699d 62-02378 


Divine perfection possible ideas 

of God 

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possible ideas of God 






Possible Ideas of God 

Copyright 1962 by Frederick Sontag 
Printed in the United States of America 

All rights in this book are reserved. 
No part of the book may be used or reproduced 
in any manner whatsoever without written per- 
mission except in the case of brief quotations 
embodied in critical articles and reviews. For 
information address Harper & Brothers 
49 East 33rd Street, New York 16 3 N. Y. 


Library of Congress catalog card number: 62-7301 


CN.S. and M.B.S. 


What should a man do if he finds himself outside and unable to 
identify with any of the major philosophical and theological trends 
of his time? If he should happen to be interested in speculative 
and constructive work, then to turn to and concentrate upon any 
one historical figure or era is too confining and misses the aim. For 
any constructive effort every previous theory is relevant, although 
all not equally so. To make every major theory (although not all 
of history a la Hegel) your training ground what a fantastic but 
necessary procedure! 

British thought, both positivistic and analytic, is highly special- 
ized, often doctrinaire, and sometimes provincial. Admirable as its 
aims and methods may be at points, it seems unsuited to specula- 
tive efforts. It may criticise them effectively, but it appears unable 
to create them. On the other hand, German thought has been so 
fruitful that its products are hard to avoid. Yet from the critical 
thought of Kant to the towers of Hegel and the humanism of 
Feuerbach and Nietzsche, it seems to have spent its creative energy. 
To stir its fire will renew the heat of any mind which has a specula- 
tive bent; but, if it is time for a change, this seems hardly the place 
to turn. 

If one of our problems is the modern split between philosophy 
and theology, then to leap with others onto the existentialist band- 
wagon might appear to be the answer. In existentialism we have at 
once a philosophical, theological, and literary movement, plus a 
revival of classical ontological problems. Yet for all this, it is hard 
to remember that existentialism actually is of nineteenth-century 



origin. Its literary flowering and public attention are recent, but its 
basis lies before our time. Furthermore, it avowedly aims at a 
radical break with its immediate past, if not with the past as a 
whole. What seems most needed today is new theorizing on funda- 
mental problems, theorizing which seems to be from the tradition 
rather than against it. We cannot go back; somehow we must bring 
all past metaphysical and theological writing to us and enlist its 
aid toward constructing contemporary theories. 

At Stanford University, where I first saw the light and was con- 
verted to the use of the philosophic method, my thanks must go to 
Lawrence Kimpton, John Mothershead (who first made me anxious 
to read all previous philosophy), John Reid, and Jeffery Smith. Out- 
side philosophy's door, Graham DuShane and Virgil Whitaker 
taught me what a teacher did and still could do. Those were exciting 
postwar days for a product of the California public schools. 

I was told, and it was true, that nowhere outside New Haven 
would it be so possible or so fruitful to work both in theology and 
in philosophy. In my own era as a graduate student at Yale this 
seemed uniquely true. As a trio of teachers, Brand Blanshard, 
Robert Calhoun, and Paul Weiss were and are and probably will 
be an unbeatable combination. Whatever clarity and directness are 
here, Blanshard may take credit for if he will. A love of classical 
theories and a desire to reproduce them without distortion both 
are from Calhoun, although they are not equal to him. Sheer 
speculative construction and daring, a confidence in one's own the- 
ories these no one could fail to learn from Weiss. Philosophy was 
as it ought to be there, so that my debt in this essay is to the whole 
Department, including, of course, Julian Hartt (with whom I first 
worked on the problem of this essay) and Albert Outler at the 
Divinity School. The students there taught too, by making you feel 
that you were in the right competition. Those years produced a 
dedication to philosophy as an instrument, an openness to every 
past and present theory, as well as the beginning of an interest in 
the subject of this essay. 


Nine years as a teacher of philosophy to Pomona College students 
made me into a writer. The faculty and the College as a whole 
provide a uniquely free and congenial atmosphere, and the students 
encourage you by finding speculation natural and traditional ques- 
tions both relevant and urgently to be dealt with. Actually, the 
draft of this essay was completed in New York City, in a small room 
in Butler Library, provided for me by the generosity of the Columbia 
University Department of Philosophy, while I was across Broadway 
as a Visiting Professor of Philosophy at Union Theological Seminary 
during 1959-1960. Although I had taken seminars in theology at 
Yale, I had never actually been in or been a part of a Seminary 
before, and that year at Union must stand as one of my most in- 
structive and fruitful. The faculty and students were more than 
generous to a philosophical Philistine, but they must also bear part 
of the responsibility for orienting my philosophical writing toward 
theological problems. 

John Bennett, Remhold Niebuhr, Cyril Richardson, and Daniel 
Williams were all kind enough to read the draft of this essay in 
detail and must not go without public thanks. I have profited from 
their comments and conversation, even if the manuscript may not 
reveal it. Without the secretarial office at Union the rough draft 
would not have been done. Without Mrs. Carol Ehman the final 
draft would not have been done nearly as well. Through all of 
this my wife patiently read and corrected what she protested she 
did not understand. If the reader's experience is otherwise, no little 
credit is due to her. 

Claremont, California F.S. 

November, 1961 



























INDEX 151 








In our own time not only philosophers but also theologians often 
seem unwilling to speak directly, clearly, and (most important) 
simply about the nature of God. This was not always so, and it need 
not be so in the future. Much, of course, has been written about the 
difficulty of arriving at any certain knowledge of the Divine nature. 
However, theoretical difficulties do not seem to have diminished 
interest in the subject. How can we develop further the widespread 
contemporary interest in theology without a constant attempt to 
delineate the nature of God as precisely as possible and in technical 
and philosophically adequate terms? 

To some it may seem strange to assert that there is currently little 
direct discussion about the Divine nature, when everywhere these 
days one hears a great deal about God and about religious concepts. 
Yet much talk about religion or extended discussion about God's 
action, however comprehensive it may be, is not the same as meta- 
physical and systematic investigation of the Divine attributes. And 
such metaphysical elaboration is important precisely because we 
are not always clear or in agreement as to how God acts or as to the 
role He plays in any particular religion. Disagreements at this level, 
as classical theology knew full well, often rest upon a fundamental 
diversity in the way in which we conceive God's nature and His 

A systematic inquiry, then, need not attempt to arrive at a single, 



definitive, and universally acceptable description of the basic qualities 
which constitute a conception of God, but it should aim to clarify 
the basis of our disagreement over God's actions by setting forth the 
varying concepts of God's nature as metaphysically conceived (i.e., 
by a description of the interrelating basic attributes of such a pri- 
mary nature) . In this way we might see why, in virtue of His nature, 
God is conceived to act in one way by some and in another way by 
others. And it is possible to avoid the epistemological problems 
which have made theologians and metaphysicians intellectually shy 
in the presence of the task of describing God. For if we view such an 
enterprise not as one providing conclusive knowledge, but rather as 
an undertaking which will enable us to see more clearly why we 
differ theologically and metaphysically, then we can discuss the 
attributes of Divinity calmly, clearly, and directly, without either 
blasphemy or unsupportable claims to the possession of certain 

Why should we not treat a theory about the Divine nature merely 
as a theory and then as theoreticians explore its consequences, along 
with its alternatives, without forming any special attachments? If 
we argue tenaciously on the practical level and seem certain of the 
basis for our knowledge there, why not theorize with equal ease on 
the abstract level also? In this way we can explore the following 
thesis: That our disagreements over the details of theology and 
metaphysics actually stem from our employment of fundamentally 
different concepts about the nature of the First Principle. Perhaps 
today we are once again ready to put first things first and to begin 
all philosophical theology and metaphysics, not with a theory of 
knowledge, but, as such clasical writers as Spinoza did, with the 
development of a theory about the Divine nature. 

In any such construction as this, one of the first questions which 
must be dealt with is: What differentiates the Divine nature from 
any other nature? and the answer to this will always involve the 
formulation of a concept of perfection. For the Divine is divine only 
if it embodies qualities of perfection in a degree different from the 
human, or if it does so in a way fundamentally incapable of ac- 


tualization within our natural order. Those who deny the existence 
of any First Principle, or of God, often do so because of an implicit 
rejection of the concept of a level or levels of existence higher and 
more perfect than that capable of realization within nature. Thus, 
the first task of the theologian is to make clear what it is for him that 
constitutes such unique qualities of perfection, i.e., what attributes 
serve to make the Divine divine and to set it apart forever from the 
natural order as prior because of its perfection. 

The first part of this book simply attempts to set forth seven re- 
lated theories about the nature of Divine perfection. The assumption 
is that disagreements on a fundamental metaphysical level can be 
shown to lie behind differences both in the conception of God and 
in questions about His actions toward men and the natural world. 
If we wish to come to understand God or, perhaps more ac- 
curately, to understand the basis for our differences of opinion about 
the way in which God acts we can do no better (so this brief book 
asserts) than to begin by attempting to sketch the various possible 
concepts of perfection. Having done this, we may then see more 
clearly the difficulties and the advantages which flow from the in- 
corporation of one of these influential concepts into the construction 
of a systematic theory about God's attributes and actions. 

How many in number are the possible concepts of Divine perfec- 
tion? Such a question is unanswerable except to say that the history 
of both metaphysics and theology tells us that there is at least more 
than one and that, if we limit ourselves to only those types which 
differ from each other fundamentally, then the possible variations 
(and thus the possible sources of basic disagreement) are really 
rather few in number, and the alternatives are actually not quite so 
numerous as one might suppose. The future, of course, may disclose 
the formation of additional basic types of Divine perfection, but the 
potential reorganization and the fruitful exploration which would 
be made possible by such a discovery does not concern the present, 
except to lend excitement to the future. 

One of the great virtues of exploring the question of Divine per- 
fection is that it is at once a philosophical and a theological problem. 


By no means is all of philosophy of interest to theologians or vice 
versa. Yet in a day in which philosophy and theology can and often 
do grow far apart, it is important to revive areas of equal interest to 
both disciplines. Of course, theology can hide under its skirts as 
many diverse pursuits as can philosophy, so that such a question as 
possible concepts of Divine perfection will tend to interest only the 
systematic theologians and the metaphysically inclined philosophers. 
However, such classical, constructive attempts are something which 
need encouragement in both fields. The question of the character- 
istics of Divine perfection has the happy advantage of uniting phi- 
losophers and theologians as equals in its exploration. 

What does the notion of perfection as a metaphysical character- 
istic of the Divine nature have to do with the moral or religious use 
of the same term? Such an interrelating of similar moral or religious 
concepts is excluded from the scope of this inquiry, except to note 
that in recent generations much more attention has been paid to the 
ethical and to the religious than to the metaphysical. It just might 
be that the latter may prove to be the more fundamental. The aim 
of this book, then, is simply to set forth seven sets of theories of 
Divine perfection which seem to the writer to be both distinctive in 
kind and rich in consequence rich metaphysically, theologically, 
and ethically. This will be done in Part I. In Part II six central pairs 
of metaphysical concepts will be considered which are crucial to the 
varying concepts of perfection. 

This investigation will be at once historical and systematic. Phi- 
losophy and theology are no more and no less than what philos- 
ophers and theologians have written which means that no 
philosopher or theologian can escape a study of the primary sources 
and still understand his discipline. In this sense no constructive work 
can ignore history. While the aim here is to set forth certain concepts 
of perfection which are systematically distinct, it would be a false 
attempt if it were not done through the medium of historical figures. 
Otherwise the systematic types, though interesting and possible, 
simply might not shed any light on what philosophy is or has been, 
but only on what it might be. On the other hand, a strong systematic 


interest prevents the types of Divine perfection outlined here from 
fitting the historical writings in every detail. The types of perfection 
presented will be generated out of historical material and applied to 
certain writers, but they will of necessity fit none of them with precise 
historical accuracy. The individual nature of philosophical and theo- 
logical writing requires this slight distortion if the systematic purpose 
is to be accomplished. Such a blending and reworking of historical 
material is precisely the activity from which all creative metaphysics 
and theology derive their energy and their inspiration. 




What is perfect is often said to mean what is complete or what 
has attained its end. Such a concept of perfection can easily be said 
to have dominated most of classical philosophy. Certainly this is true 
for both Plato and Aristotle. Plato's famous doctrine of the Forms 
has often been interpreted exclusively as an epistemological doctrine, 
which merely reflects the interest that has dominated modern 
thought. Actually, within the Platonic dialogues the Forms seem to 
be much more a standard of ontological perfection, giving simplicity 
and order to the world of sense and thus rendering it intelligible. 
The Forms serve as the model for the construction of the world in 
the Timaeus, to which the world-maker looks for his pattern. 

For Aristotle form has an equally important place and similarly 
serves as a standard of perfection, although the concept of form is 
less universal and more closely embodied in the physical world, from 



which the individual mind abstracts it to gain knowledge. Form 
indicates completion, definiteness, limit, intelligibility, and exemp- 
tion from motion. Aristotle's only deviation from Plato here is in 
the ontological status which he gives to form and in the conception 
of the process by which we come to know such an object. Essentially, 
however, both of these influential figures are united in their use of 
the properties of "form" to connote perfection. 

Although form is the primary example of perfection for Plato, it 
is easy to see other characteristics of perfection at work in his dia- 
logues. The guiding control of reason, the acquisition of knowledge 
of basic principles, the search for beauty, and the love or desire for 
increased knowledge all of these are mentioned time after time. 
Transcendence is barely hinted at as a necessary aspect of perfection 
(notable exceptions: the description of the Good in the Republic 
and in the Philebus] . 

Virtue, of course, is one of Plato's main concerns, and this ex- 
presses itself theologically in the protest which appears in the first 
part of the Republic against the popular representations of the gods 
as indulging in human wickedness. Plato clearly links Divine per- 
fection to moral virtue and in turn to stability of nature and lack of 
radical change in characteristics. Divinity requires unchangeableness 
of nature and a moral example of trustworthiness. Plato excludes 
motion as being an imperfection, though not as strongly as Aristotle 
does. The soul is the source of all motion; and in a way the soul also 
exemplifies perfection for Plato, although it does so in a secondary 
manner. On the whole, the eternal and changeless character of form 
stands as Plato's major criterion of perfection. It remains for 
Plotinus to pick up Plato's stress upon soul as an important on- 
tological principle and then attempt to reconcile this with the 
motionless nature of perfection in a way in which Plato never did. 

Control is another aspect of perfection which Plato stresses many 
times. Perhaps it is the major underlying theme of the Republic. 
The improvement of men and nations depends upon the union of 
abstract principles with practical power, with the philosopher-king 
standing as the symbol of rational control. The world-maker in the 


Timaeus exemplifies this ideal control in a supreme sense, forcing 
into submission and to useful purpose the essentially chaotic ele- 
ments in the receptacle. A world perfect in its self-maintainance is 
the end result of this kind of rational, controlled exercise of power. 

Motion can never be completely excluded from the definition of 
perfection for Plato, since in the Parmenides the One which is be- 
yond being is rejected as the dominant ontological principle. Instead, 
Plato settles for a continuous tension between absolute unity and sheer 
plurality. This yields the principle of definite number, and it indi- 
cates the ultimate, yet limited, pluralism inherent within Plato's on- 
tological principles. Mixture thus becomes the guiding concept for 
perfection in the good life, as delineated in the Philebus. Guided by 
rationality and controlled by a preference for limitedness, mixture 
seems to be close to Plato's last word on the attributes of perfection. 
Either a world-maker or an individual man does the best he can 
with the material that is given to him without choice. He uses the 
power of rationality (guided through a knowledge of the interrela- 
tion of the Forms) to control, unify, and limit the ingredients in 
consonance with a concept of harmony and beauty, 

Aristotle shows an even stronger preference for the limited and 
the complete as the very conditions for intelligibility and thus for 
perfection. Intelligibility and perfection both mean to be without 
matter, since matter entails division and motion, due to its incom- 
pleteness. To have completion means to have attained an end in 
harmony with the realization possible for that species. Development, 
motion, and seeking imply the lack of an attained end, and this 
characterizes what is as yet imperfect. In the Metaphysics, perfection 
in a being of the kind represented by the unmoved mover means not 
thinking about material (i.e., moving and thus imperfect) objects. 
Thought having its own completed thought as it object is the de- 
scription of the unmoved mover's perfect state. Despite Aristotle's 
famed stress upon the centrality of the concrete individual in the 
process of knowledge, where ontological perfection is concerned his 
conception is on the whole quite abstract and free from motion. 

It is in the concept of necessity that Aristotle differs perhaps most 


fundamentally from Plato. To be such that it could not be other- 
wise, that is, to be necessary this concept guides Aristotle in his 
logical work and becomes crucial to his delineation of perfection. 
Like Plato, he fully and freely recognizes the non-rational and the 
accidental elements in all of nature. Like Plato also, however, he 
looks not to all of nature for knowledge, but only to a part of it; and 
this part Aristotle particularly stresses as the necessary, that which 
alone is reducible to definite concept. Plato does not favor capricious- 
ness in any sense, but his important principles of love and beauty 
offer in their attractiveness to the mind a kind of counterpart to the 
guidance Aristotle finds in that which cannot be other than it is, 
i.e., the necessary in nature and in thought. 

Aristotle's strongest w T ords are reserved for the rejection of in- 
finity or unlimitedness, since for him it means incompleteness, in- 
determinacy, and thus the impossibility of rational comprehension. 
Aristotle limits his extended discussion only to the question of the 
possibility of a material infinite, but it is no less clear that all kinds 
of infinity are for him the antithesis of perfection. He admits fully 
the importance and the difficulty of the question of whether or not 
an actual infinite exists. He finally accepts the reality of a potential 
infinite and of an actual infinity in the sense of perpetual circular 
motion, since it has a limitation and a sense of continued completion. 
Plato says little about the question of infinity, except to indicate his 
possible receptiveness by including it as one of the basic principles 
responsible for the origin of all things as he describes them in the 
Philebus. In the Sophist, Plato does posit power as the fundamental 
characteristic of all being, a principle which is not so hostile to 
actual infinity. On the whole, however, Plato clearly agrees with 
Aristotle in seeing limitation as reason's primary characteristic and 
as the factor responsible for beauty, harmony, and thus, perfection. 

Strangely enough, it is Aristotle, in the Nicomachean Ethics, 
who stresses contemplation as being an activity that is akin to 
divinity and as an end sufficient in itself. For all his supposed love of 
abstract thought, Plato closely ties all perfect thought to a controlled 
direction of the world's daily activities. Aristotle also stresses the 


virtue of such practical wisdom, but that which is most god-like is 
that knowledge and contemplation which is sufficient in itself. The 
goal of thought seems to be such self-sufficiency as the unmoved 
mover has in his own self-reflective thought, and this concept is of 
major importance both for Aristotle's delineation of perfection and 
for many who come after him. 

Like Plato, Aristotle rejects unity as a dominant feature of per- 
fection. Since there is no radical distinction between perfection as 
it applies to ontological construction, to divinity, or to the rational 
part of man, unity in all three realms is reduced to merely the neces- 
sary element of order and limitation. Plato's Forms are plural, as are 
Aristotle's although those of both are limited in number. In the 
metaphysics of neither man can ontological first principles be re- 
duced to one, or even ranked in strict order of importance according 
to any single and dominant concept. Limitation is important to both 
men, but Divine perfection retains an ultimately plural, if never- 
theless definite, character. 

One of the most influential concepts for all later thinking about 
Divine perfection is Aristotle's distinction between actual and poten- 
tial and his unhesitating preference for the actual. This preference is 
easy to understand in light of the prevailing concepts of perfection, 
since potentiality involves change, time, motion, and incompleteness. 
It is hardly too much to say that Aristotle took the actual as his 
principal criterion for perfection, finding its epitome in the unmoved 
mover, whose very existence it is necessary to posit in order to find 
full actuality completely embodied. Later theologians agree over- 
whelmingly, and almost unconsciously, in making actuality one of 
the primary characteristics of Divine perfection. Potentiality comes 
to be ruled out of the Divine nature because of its opposition to 
actuality; and change, time, motion, and incompleteness are left to 
represent a lack of perfection. Although Plato does not use Aris- 
totle's terms, he tends to share Aristotle's preference here without 
real difference. 

Since motion is linked with time, change, and incompleteness, rest 
comes to be preferred and to represent perfection, not so much for 


its own sake but because it indicates a state of actuality. Eternity, as 
the absence of temporality, not mere indefinite extension of time, 
also shares this derived preference. Aristotle links time with motion, 
and motion with incompleteness, so that removal from direct par- 
ticipation in time becomes necessary to preserve pure actuality in any 
being that is to be called fully perfect. Thus, the specific terms in 
which Aristotle conceives perfection, and with which Plato does not 
essentially disagree, come to be linked firmly together and to define 
perfection for centuries to come. 





If Plato can be said to hint at times at the necessity for con- 
ceiving of the Divine as transcendent, it is safe to say that Aristotle 
does not see this necessity at all. It might be said that Aristotle re- 
jects the existence of an actual infinite principally because of its 
quality of transcending intellection. He never speaks of the un- 
moved mover in a way that suggests anything other than an actual 
(i.e., pure) representation of the principles which are active within 
the natural order. Plato only suggests, but never develops, the con- 
cept of Good as transcending being and intellection. Aristotle cannot 
even go as far as a hint, but instead he rejects all transcendence and 
equates the ontologically perfect with what is amenable to full 
rational comprehension. 

Although the Pre-Socratics are full of transcendental elements, it 
is really through the Enneads of Plotinus and the writings of the 



Pseudo-Dionysius that western metaphysics and theology have come 
to think seriously of perfection's transcendence of being and reason. 
Such transcendence becomes not only compatible with, but even 
necessary to, any conception of Divine perfection. This comes about 
primarily through the emphasis given to unity as a central character- 
istic of anything worthy of being called perfect. 

However, neither Plotinus nor Dionysius should be thought of as 
recommending the transcendence of being and of rationality as 
characteristic of perfection simply for the sake of transcendence. 
Especially in Plotinus, the element of transcendence of both the 
natural and the intelligible orders has its roots in Parmenides and in 
Plato's dialogue, Parmenides. In the latter, Plato considers the One 
beyond being and concludes that it is beyond all description and 
thought. Plotinus accepts this consequence in making the One his 
supreme First Principle, rather than follow Plato's more moderate 
(i.e., pluralistic) solution. When unity is made the supreme meta- 
physical concept, transcendence is a necessary consequence. Plato 
held to a compromise between unity and multiplicity (a dialectical 
tension) , but Plotinus makes unity supreme and accepts the difficult 

Yet, although transcendence comes to be attached to perfection 
because of the prominence of unity in governing ontological struc- 
ture, the primacy of unity for Plotinus goes back another step. 
"Soul" was an important concept for Plato; to Plotinus it becomes 
all-important and philosophy's very starting point. To the very end, 
soul has an important but ambiguous role in Plato's dialogues. 
Plotinus begins with a systematic study of the soul and becomes the 
first classical philosopher to develop a subtle and profound psy- 
chology and to make such psychology central to philosophical 
thought. By comparison, Aristotle's treatise On the Soul is really 
only a theory of knowledge. Plotinus develops what can be called a 
metaphysic based upon an examination of soul, whereas Aristotle's 
metaphysics is surely based upon the principles of the physical world. 
Both Augustine and Hegel can be understood only against the back- 
drop of Plotinus' achievement. 


In examining the soul and various extant theories about it, 
Plotinus concludes that soul is primarily characterized by a kind of 
organic unity. This degree of unity distinguishes the soul from lesser 
orders in the physical world and makes possible the development of 
a higher interior order within the soul. Despite its dispersal through- 
out the body, the soul has a degree of unity that prevents its becom- 
ing split as physical enties may be. The presence of the whole of the 
soul in each part simultaneously testifies to its non-material nature. 
Having distinguished the soul from physical nature and founded this 
distinction upon greater and lesser degrees of internal unity, Plotinus 
then discovers that the soul exists above the material world and is 
able to look either to it or away from it. Plotinus finds that when the 
soul is directed away from the physical world, it contemplates an- 
other sphere, the intelligible world. This realm proves to be above 
the soul because of its higher degree of unity. Pure thought does not 
look to the physical world, and thus such thought is not character- 
ized by motion as is the soul. In fact, the intelligible world does not 
contain any possibility for division, except the necessary distinctions 
between thought and object, and between thought and thought. 

Having transcended the physical and psychical world, guided by 
varying degrees of unity, the dialectical scale thus established natu- 
rally leads to its implied terminus, unity itself, absolutely without 
division. The actual description of the Plotinian First Principle is a 
complicated affair, but there is no question of the primacy assigned 
to unity as a metaphysical and theological concept or that it involves 
transcending both rationality and all of the natural characteristics of 
being. Here the law of identity is suspended, which is one reason 
that rationality is interrupted. All things are in the One as their 
source, but not as individual things. Here the negative method of 
approach becomes necessary, and all direct statement about the One 
becomes difficult, that is if normal standards of accuracy are ex- 
pected to apply. 

However, one difficulty in understanding Plotinus and one com- 
mon source of misunderstanding about his doctrine is that nothing 
in his metaphysical hierarchy has only one side or aspect. Like 


Spinoza, Plotinus holds that every important entity can be viewed in 
two ways, and different aspects will appear within each perspective. 
For Plotinus this duality of perspective is usually expressed in the 
metaphor "looking upward or looking downward." Each perspec- 
tive is equally true, although of course the way up, i.e., toward in- 
creasing unity and the One itself, is the primary route, just as for 
Spinoza "under the aspect of eternity" provides the more adequate 
understanding. But this duality of perspective often leads to ap- 
parently conflicting statements, and it always leads to complexity 
and intricacy of metaphysical structure. 

All of this helps us to understand why Plotinus says a great deal 
about his ultimate principle, the One, and at the same time gives 
good reasons why description of it and direct statement about it are 
both impossible and misleading when attempted. The underlying 
principle of unity, uncovered through his analysis of the status of 
the soul, forces Plotinus to maintain the extreme transcendence of 
what is ultimately perfect; but duality of perspective (represented 
in the negative method of approach) still allows him to give a full 
discussion of the supremely perfect One. All that is found within the 
structure of being, even Plotinus 5 Intellectual Principle (akin to 
Plato's Forms), involves some degree of duality, which forces the 
supremely perfect One to stand beyond intellection and outside both 
the structure of being and of not-being. Unity as the supreme (and, 
of course, singular) characteristic of what is ultimately perfect will 
now involve Divine perfection in the difficulties and the protective 
advantages of the extreme transcendence of rational structure. 

Sometimes Plotinus calls his First Principle the Good, indicating 
its freely creative and outgoing tendency. When so characterized, 
the supremely perfect becomes abundantly full and is viewed as the 
source of all structures and of all beings within the natural world. 
However, it seems clear that the principle of identity is derivative 
from the One and not applicable to it. Thus, when the One is 
described as containing all things while yet itself being nothing, it is 
precisely because the suspension of the normal, so-called "laws of 
thought" results in a unique situation within the One. It cannot be 


described by means of our normal distinctions; within it all is 
present but without limit, distinction, or precise boundary. 

Divine, or really more properly, ultimate perfection (since 
"divine" as we use it applies in Plotinus 5 hierarchy to the secondary 
realm of intelligence), although perhaps not beyond all grasp, is 
dominated not by a group of characteristic perfections but by a 
single, dominant one. Personality is surpassed, just as intellection 
was, and all contingency or variability in the world's creation and 
constitution is ruled out. What is supremely perfect is neither limited 
nor unlimited, finite nor infinite, but transcends these and all other 
such oppositions and distinctions. It is both supremely actual and 
supremely potential, since it contains all things as their ultimate 
source, but it does so in a manner beyond normal distinctions. This 
means that the One cannot be called actual as opposed to potential, 
but must be both without being either separately. 

Such breaking of normal thought categories, already strained 
where Divine perfection is concerned, makes perfection hard to 
characterize in any satisfactory manner. One certain characteristic 
remains, however: self-sufficiency. What is supremely perfect now 
cannot be described by any simple set of characteristics such as rest 
vs. motion. Yet never is any First Principle made dependent on 
anything other than itself (once the era of a single First Principle is 
reached). In fact, the transcendence of categories and distinctions 
by the Plotinian One seems to be propelled by the very desire to 
place what is to be adjudged ultimately perfect as forever beyond all 
dependence, the dependence which any structure or list of distinct 
characteristics must involve. 

Although neither necessity nor freedom is quite accurate as an ex- 
clusive characteristic of perfection for Plotinus, necessity (as for 
Aristotle) is more important if it is contrasted with the possible, i.e., 
with the world we now have as it is conceived in alternative forms. 
Choice involves distinctions and is not characteristic of the One. 
The One produces ungrudgingly and without omission or lack, but 
it is not a contemplated production or an act which involves any 
alternatives. Eternity is not quite properly applicable to the One, 


except insofar as it is different from the temporal in being its source. 
Nor is infinity characteristic of the One, since that involves multi- 
plicity. The One is beyond both the finite and the infinite as the un- 
divided source of both. 

However, good does apply to the One; in fact Plotinus often 
uses the Good as a synonym for the One. The Good is the One re- 
garded in its relation to the Intellectual Principle which it produces. 
Regarded as the source of all levels of being, the One is good and 
is the opposite of all evil. Evil comes to be measured in distance from 
the One, taken in its capacity as the source of all. Power certainly 
is basic to such a conception of the One as the origin of all things, 
although descriptions of the One itself tend to produce a feeling of 
quietude and calm. Once again, what is important in the meta- 
physical structure of the One is that it allows two apparently op- 
posed descriptions. On the other hand, the One's perfection 
certainly places it ultimately above even a dual mode of knowledge. 
Knowing violates unity by being dependent upon the distinctions it 
is necessary to make between thought and its object. 

Like self-sufficiency, the One is cause-of -itself as opposed to cause- 
in-another, although even this distinction is not wholly adequate as 
applied to the One. As to being vs. non-being, it transcends both as 
the source of both, which of course means that the perfection of the 
One is not that of being as opposed to non-being. All of this sublety 
of hierarchy and difficulty of attribution leads Plotinus to a definite 
preference for the negative method of approach. Direct and positive 
statements, even when balanced by negative ones, seern to require a 
containment of the One within the basic structures of being, and the 
stress on unity as primal in perfection makes the transcendence of 
being and intellection absolutely necessary. The complexities and the 
difficulties which this introduces into any description of Divine (or 
supra-Divine) perfection are, and were, far reaching. 

The Pseudo-Dionysius can be viewed within the Plotinian frame- 
work of perfection with little modification or distortion. Perfection 
as requiring transcendence of being and intellection is reflected on 
every page. Dionysius asserts his preference for the negative method, 


and mysticism of a disciplined sort is necessary because of the dis- 
tortion of perfection which remains in even the most refined 
thought, since thought cannot exist without distinctions. With an 
interest in Christian categories, Dionysius leaves room for a trini- 
tarian concept and an attribution of personality to his Supreme. 
However, the ultimate way in which these distinctions are present 
within the First Principle cannot be made precise. Plotinus, too, can 
locate all within the One if it is viewed as the source of all distinc- 
tions, and Dionysius locates Christian attributes in his First Principle 
in much the same way. 

Dionysius' treatise On the Divine Names indicates the necessity 
for Christians to speak directly about God. The action of God in an 
historical event and the existence of a sacred literature which speaks 
casually and often of God, these make Dionysius more interested in 
considering carefully the applicability of a series of names to God. As 
every skilled theologian must, Dionysius totally rejects some names 
as unworthy, others as partially so, and still others he finds to be even 
more appropriate (i.e., undifferenced names, applicable without dis- 
tinction to the whole of the Godhead). However, here symbolism 
develops as an explicit method in a way that was not required by 
Plotinus 3 metaphysical problems. 

The result is that some names may be applied to the Divine per- 
fection, but these are neither ultimate nor ultimately distinct. Rather, 
such appropriate names direct us; they stand as symbols and signs 
for what finally transcends both name and description. Theological 
language becomes necessarily non-literal and symbolic whenever 
Divine perfection is conceived primarily in terms of a unity that 
demands the abrogation of distinctions. A search for appropriate 
Divine names ends by taking the seeker beyond all names and dis- 
tinctions. As in Plotinus, describing Divine perfection leads you not 
only beyond this world but beyond intellection and direct speech. 

Theology since Plotinus and Dionysius has continually faced the 
problem of the transcendence of perfection beyond the confines of 
both being and language. Yet both Plotinus and Dionysius are often 
misunderstood and thought to be saying that nothing at all can be 


said about such a transcendent First Principle. As a matter of fact, 
both devote great energy to describing their Supreme Principle. 
Dionysius keeps his Super-essential Godhead somewhat closer to 
usual conceptions of divinity, but our ordinary language neverthe- 
less becomes both inadequate and symbolic. Plotinus' One cannot 
even be called "God" in any usual sense. The normal characteristics 
of a Divinity are more to be found in the lower levels, although all 
levels are also in the One without distinction as in their source. 

Rational discourse, Divine as it is, is now seen as involving the 
imperfection of some distinction, however minor it may be. And 
distinction is to be avoided because it may permit division, which 
would impair Divine self-sufficiency, the most prized perfection. Be- 
ing is no longer a supreme concept, nor is non-being, since the 
primary consequence of this view of perfection is that the law of 
identity holds only for the realms below the First. Negation, and the 
creation of new terms to serve as symbols, is characteristic of this 
approach. Final statements are ruled out by the ultimate inappro- 
priateness of a language that is necessarily based upon distinctions. 
Unity, the primary Divine perfection, has powerful transforming 
and attractive qualities; but it also creates subtle and difficult prob- 
lems wherever clear and accurate statement is attempted. Such 
perfection certainly makes it hard to degrade a First Principle, but 
it also renders precise statement necessarily improbable. 

Dionysius is even forced to place his Supreme God beyond perfec- 
tion, a not uncommon ending for a neo-Platonist. This, of course, 
does not mean that God is imperfect but simply indicates that his 
transcendence of normal categories is such that our usual concep- 
tions of perfection (e.g., Aristotle's definition in terms of what is 
limited and complete) are too confining. He is beyond standard 
concepts of perfection and imperfection as the source of both. The 
source of standards must be greater than the limits of the standards 
and must go beyond their immediate confines* 



A N S E L M 

Perhaps no figure in the history of philosophy and theology is 
more difficult or more important to understand than Augustine. 
His writings are voluminous, but they hold to no recognized system- 
atic form, neither that of brevity, consciously imposed structure, 
nor complete consistency of viewpoint. It is no exaggeration to say 
that Augustine began by endorsing pagan Roman philosophy and 
only gradually began to remold this as he pondered over the prob- 
lems of Christian doctrine. He has an affinity with the Platonic and 
neo-Platonic tradition in both his early use of dialogue and the loose- 
ness of his technical terms and his doctrine. Yet no figure looms so 
large in influencing later theological thinking on Divine perfection. 
Except perhaps in the work On the Trinity, Augustine never 
treats the metaphysical problem of the perfection of Divinity in a 
straightforward manner, yet it is fairly easy to see his views on per- 



fection reflected with amazing consistency in all of his writing. God 
is first and foremost characterized by immutability, and this central 
quality of His perfection guides Augustine to many a doctrinal 
decision. More akin to Plato and Aristotle on this point than to 
Plotinus, Augustine views any form of change as evidence of im- 
perfection, and the strength of this conviction has much to do with 
his important doctrine of Divine foreknowledge and predestination. 

Other than immutability, God's primary perfection seems to be 
wisdom. Here we can see even more clearly that, especially in his 
conception of God, Augustine did not follow Plotinus as he is often 
supposed to have done. Unity is stressed as a characteristic of Di- 
vinity but an ultimate trinity is allowed, and wisdom as the central 
characteristic of Divine perfection indicates the essential reasonable- 
ness and lack of extreme transcendence which Augustine finds in the 
Divine nature. Wisdom, the supreme source of all knowledge, and 
immortality reduce unity to a lesser perfection. 

Perhaps in his doctrine of the soul Augustine can be seen to be 
most like Plotinus, even if this similarity is not to be found in his 
ultimate metaphysical structure. Augustine's psychology is detailed 
and profound. As in Plotinus, an analysis of the soul often serves as 
a systematic point of departure; and, in the case of both the Trinity 
and time, it is within the soul that analysis discloses structures which 
can serve as the basis for rendering intelligible both time and the 
trinitarian nature of God. Our psychology reveals a certain distinc- 
tion present within the unity of our mind (e.g., memory, intellect, 
and will, operating together) , and these insights into our own nature 
give us a genuine basis for understanding God. 

It is no easy task to understand Augustine's attempt to assure 
Divine foreknowledge of all events and actions, without either as- 
serting God to be the immediate cause or impairing freedom of 
action. However, as far as Divine perfection is concerned, the im- 
portant point is that it is Augustine's desire to prevent any change in 
God or in His knowledge which makes Augustine hold so forcefully 
to the doctrine of absolute foreknowledge and also the eternality of 
God. The situation is similar for the doctrine of evil. Since God 


created even eternity and knows all things from eternity and is 
primarily characterized by rest, evil comes to be thought of as a 
lesser good, defined by its closeness or distance from the Divine 
nature. All actions are immediately present to God's knowledge, so 
that evil is robbed of any independent status by its immediate and 
eternal presence in God and must be accounted for as a part of 
what is essentially a completely good nature. 

Augustine speaks little about such technical attributes of perfec- 
tion as infinity, although he appears to ascribe it to God in a positive, 
if not in an important, sense. God is certainly rational, determinate, 
complete, and actual in His perfection, although Augustine is not 
often given to arguing such questions explicitly. Rest is certainly a 
primary characteristic, both religiously and metaphysically. Real 
alternatives to the structure of this world do not seem either im- 
portant or possible to Augustine. God's nature is mirrored fully in 
this world, especially in men's minds. 

The famous doctrine of time is perhaps most important here, 
along with the trinitarian aspects that Augustine finds rooted in our 
own psychology. Elaborating Plato's brief characterization of time 
as "the moving image of eternity," Augustine finds memory and ex- 
pectation (i.e., past and future) to exist only as they are held to- 
gether in the present. Our time moves; God holds all parts of time 
present in simultaneous and changeless vision. God, then, is actually 
not extremely unlike men in His Divinely perfect nature, He es- 
capes the disintegrating tendencies of time and place. He creates 
time but is not Himself in time. He is a trinity as we are a trinity of 
memory, understanding, and will; but He is at rest and is above us 
as the creator of all things, although it is through our minds that we 
may be intimately and immediately made aware of God. God does 
not transcend wisdom because of His perfection ; He is wisdom par 
excellence creative, immutable, and at rest. 

This lack of the transcendence which perfection has often de- 
manded leads Augustine to prefer the direct and simple attribution 
of characteristics to God, rather than the more torturous and tenu- 


ous via negativa. So close docs he see the analogy of God to the 
human mind and soul that Augustine experiences no great difficulty 
in speaking about God in a straightforward and simple manner. His 
supreme wisdom. His moral perfection, and His omnipotence as 
creator of the world and man make God forever different from man. 
Although all words are signs or symbols for Augustine and not literal 
knowledge, speaking about God poses no insurmountable difficulties 
imposed by His perfection. 

Anselm, like Augustine, must be read with the general Platonic 
framework in mind, and much misunderstanding has resulted from 
not doing so. It is true that he is a more systematic writer than 
Augustine, but beneath his dialectic can be seen again a looseness of 
basic structure and, what is more important, a certain detachment 
and tentativeness about all of the reasonings he puts forth. As for 
Augustine, so for Anselm thought about God takes the form of an 
attempt to arrive at an adequate concept. Despite the popular con- 
ception of his method, Anselm does not begin with a finished con- 
cept. All discussion is an exercise for the mind and all statement a 
testing ground for the mind, enabling it to check the adequacy of 
its concepts by comparison. A non-dogmatic flavor is ever present in 
Anselm, and his doctrine of God especially should be taken as a 
starting point, not a conclusion, intended by him to be suggestive to 
the inquiring mind. 

Immutability again seems to be central in considering Divine per- 
fection, and all reasoning takes the form of trying to rid the at- 
tributes we assign to God of any imperfect connotations. As in 
Augustine, degrees of value play an important role in increasing the 
mind's knowledge of God. In fact, the whole of the discussion in 
both the Monologium and the Proslogium is an effort to make the 
mind rise to an apprehension of God through considering what at- 
tribute is more perfect than another and what is absolutely perfect. 
We begin with certain traditional notions of God's perfection and 
then raise the mind above its normal field of vision by attempting to 
strip God's usual attributes of any aspects which would place Him 


beneath anything else. We begin with the most perfect conception 
we can form and, through questioning it, improve our grasp of 
what Divine perfection really means. 

Perhaps the most important notion which emerges from the 
changes which take place in Anselm's early and too easy formula- 
tions of the ontological argument is that God is not simply the 
highest being the mind can conceive but transcends conception. 
Thus Anselm introduces a transcendental element into perfection 
that is not so strongly present in Augustine or even present at the 
beginning of his own formulation. However, Anselm introduces a 
subtle distinction into his discovery that God's perfection requires an 
ultimately ineffable nature by asserting that, although our terms 
refer to a being beyond comprehension, the meanings of the terms 
used in describing God are in themselves fully comprehensible. 
Thus, God is no idea in the mind of any man, not even the idea of 
the most perfect being, although our consideration of this pre- 
liminary concept of perfection can lead us to form more adequate 
concepts and eventually to see the necessarily limited accuracy of all 
conception and naming. 

Anselm's characterization of God takes the very traditional form 
of listing the important names ascribed to God and then considering 
the adequacy of some of them. His fundamental belief in the non- 
temporality of God governs much of his qualification of the tradi- 
tional attributes. God's immutability must not be jeopardized by 
any predication which makes God in any way relative. Perfection 
demands that God exist solely in and through Himself. All at- 
tempted attribution merely serves the function of leading us to see 
the independence of God from all normal structures of being. We 
predicate perfections of Him, e.g., goodness, only as a means of 
raising our own minds. We say this not in order to conceive of Him 
as possessing that quality, or any other, but to discover Him as being 
goodness itself and as bestowing that quality and all other perfec- 
tions on this created world. 

Although Anselm gives in fairly rapid order a traditional list of 
the Divine attributes, which properly conceived constitute Divine 


perfection, he does not discuss many of them in detail. The perfec- 
tions which are to be attributed to God seem at this point in theo- 
logical history to be fairly well established, and the problem is to 
order and to give structure to them. Anselm does focus on God's 
non-temporality, which places him well within the more traditional 
conceptions of Divine perfection. Goodness is an attribute Anselm 
also stresses in the Monologium, which allies him with Augustine in 
seeing God's perfection as the supreme source of all the degrees and 
kinds of goodness embodied in the orders of this world. 

The force of Anselm's ontological argument, since it depends 
upon God's absolute uniqueness as a rational object, results in God's 
transcendence of normal conception and rational grasp. This is 
based upon the now standard characterization of God's perfection : 
infinite, non-temporal, self -existent, and possessing all power. It does 
not involve the extreme transcendence of the neo-Platonic variety, 
since unity, though included, is not the dominant attribute of Divine 
perfection. Negative theology is not Anselm's mode of approach; 
God's perfection is not so extreme as to demand it. Anselm's ap- 
proach is direct and straightforward. However, after a brief en- 
counter with the traditional attributes, God is found to transcend 
any preliminary idea we may have formed. Anselm maintains that 
if we begin by thinking of Him as highest in the known scale of 
things (e.g., "that than which nothing greater can be conceived"), 
further reflection on the perfection of such a being reveals Him to 
be greater than any normal conception and thus beyond conception, 
not merely at its limit. 

If the Proslogium and Appendix make the "proof" for God's 
existence depend (1) upon His transcendence of normal con- 
ceptualization and (2) upon the admission of the argument's 
uniqueness which is due to the special nature of the object, then the 
Monologium can be seen as a "meditation" on the characteristics of 
God which are such that they require a transformation of all thought 
which is to be about Him. Anselm begins with the traditional valua- 
tional approach, making God alone supremely good, He who is 
alone good through Himself. Since all things are not embraced in a 


single degree of dignity, the contrast of levels of existence leads us 
to conceive of God's nature as deriving existence from itself. Thus, 
"self-existent cause" and "supremely good through itself" become 
the two chief characteristics of Divine perfection, and they cause 
God to be set over against all other natures as radically different in 
kind from them. 

Creating through expressing His eternal ideas, creating by taking 
absolutely nothing from any other source these are the next most 
important perfections which Anselm finds in God. In any Christian 
conception, God's perfection demands that His creative power be 
unobstructed and be dependent upon nothing outside of Him. God 
need not, as is sometimes thought, create from or depend upon 
absolutely nothing; He simply depends upon nothing outside Him- 
self. Such a creative source can be described as "living," which 
under other circumstances might be considered a second-order per- 
fection. Compositeness within the Divine nature must still be denied; 
thus, after listing the Divine attributes, the problem is to demonstrate 
the ultimate unity of them all. The reconciliation of the multiple 
statements which must be made about God is a task which unity as 
a central perfection demands of all theologians and metaphysicians. 




O C K H A M 

In the writings of Thomas Aquinas and William of Ockham, 
and in John Duns Scotus too, definite changes begin to be revealed 
in the way in which Divine perfection is conceived. In Aquinas, 
such changes are contained within a traditional framework, but in 
the writings of either Scotus or Ockham these changes can be seen 
to have broken through to the surface and to have produced altera- 
tions in the basic metaphysical principles of both of these writers. 
Despite the renowned difficulties of language and thought struc- 
ture that characterize the writings of Scotus and Ockham, in some re- 
spects their basic positions are easier to grasp than is that of Thomas. 
Taking the two Summas of Thomas as an example, we find be- 
tween those covers an enormous collection of views, derived from 
the famous model of the medievals' basic text, the Sentences. With- 
out attempting here to analyse the complex structure and style of 



the Summas, the real difficulty for their clear interpretation stems 
from the wide variety of views which Thomas brings together in 
those pages. It is a complex job to see Thomas' position clearly on 
any issue, and he is often done the great disservice of oversimplifica- 
tion, or what is worse of oversystematization, and this leads to 
stereotyped doctrines and rigidified views. Augustine and the neo- 
Platonic Pseudo-Dionysius are quoted by Thomas frequently and 
at crucial points, so that any attempt to overstress Aristotle's in- 
fluence is deceptive. The key to understanding Aquinas lies in the 
reconciliation of the almost wild variety of sources upon which he 
draws, a fascinating and baffling undertaking. 

Perhaps nowhere is the contrast between Thomas and Aristotle 
more clearly seen than in Aquinas' doctrine of the Divine nature. The 
unmoved mover is never really discussed at length by Aristotle, and 
hardly at all outside the Metaphysics or Physics, whereas God is the 
center of and plays the largest part in Aquinas' thought. Aristotelian 
terminology, it is true, is often used in the Summas^ but this simi- 
larity can be misleading. Where God is concerned, Aquinas is much 
closer to the Platonists and the neo-Platonists (mediated via Augus- 
tine), the Pseudo-Dionysius and the many other followers of this 
tradition whom he so often quotes. 

One example is particularly illuminating in this connection: the 
relation of "infinity" and "form." In the Physics especially, Aristotle 
goes to great pains to deny the existence of an actual (corporeal) 
infinite. Admitting that the problem will remain puzzling under any 
solution, Aristotle accepts the existence of an infinite in the sense of 
potentiality (e.g., the potential division ad infinitum of any cor- 
poreal body) and perhaps also in uninterrupted and eternal circular 
motion. However, even this limited admission of the infinite does not 
remove its incompatibility with form (since form necessitates limit) 
or remove its opposition to both reason and perfection. Reason 
depends upon form, which requires limitation, and perfection re- 
quires completion and pure actuality, the opposite of the infinite as 

Aquinas deals with the problem by denying the incompatibility 


of infinity with form and removing the general question from the 
context of a corporeal infinite, changing the question to one of in- 
finity in the incorporeal Divine nature. Thomas agrees with Aris- 
totle where the corporeal infinite is concerned, but he then goes on to 
apply infinity as a perfection to God alone, having reversed Aristotle 
and made the infinite compatible with form and actuality. The ac- 
ceptance of infinity as a perfection within the Divine nature requires 
a change in the Aristotelian metaphysics which could hardly be more 
fundamental. It is true that the importance of form is maintained, 
as it is not in some other conceptions of perfection, and it is also 
true that the perfection of the Divine nature does not require the 
transcendence of being. However, both limitation and the necessary 
connection by Aristotle of infinity with incompleteness are reversed 
by Thomas. It could not even have occurred to Aristotle to consider 
infinity as a perfection or to raise the question in connection with 
the nature of his unmoved mover; now infinity has become the very 
hallmark of perfection for theologians considering the Divine nature. 

It is the unforgettable legacy of neo-Platonism that causes Aquinas 
to begin his systematic consideration of the Divine attributes with 
the affirmation of the simplicity of God. Religiously speaking, of 
course, this has its roots also in the traditional Hebrew affirmation, 
"Hear, O Israel, the Lord Our God is One God"; but, technically 
speaking, it is Plotinus and his kin who have impressed upon us 
all the primacy of simplicity wherever ontological perfection is 
concerned. This is all the more important for Thomas, since his 
basically non-transcendent (i.e., not beyond being) view of God's 
perfection causes him to attribute many characteristics to God, in- 
cluding a trinitarian nature and the essential characteristics of 
personality, so that the maintenance of simplicity is a difficult and a 
pressing question. 

Thomas begins his consideration of the Divine nature with a 
variation on the traditional negative method, by denying of Him 
whatever is opposed to the idea of Him, e.g., "it is absolutely true 
that God is not a body" (Pt. 1, p3, Art. 1). Following this comes 
Thomas* major item of agreement with Aristotle, the assertion of the 


absolute priority of actuality (i.e., no motion, change, or unrealized 
aspect) which dominates most of the theological tradition and safe- 
guards the Divine self-sufficiency and omnipotence. Matter is of 
course denied as applicable to God, due to its linkage with poten- 
tiality; and God's existence is identical with His essence, since other- 
wise He would be among those things whose existence is caused by 
something outside of themselves. However, God is not to be found 
in any genus. He transcends ordinary classification but He does not 
transcend being itself, nor is He a subject of whom accidents may be 
predicated. He rules all things without commingling with them. 

Perfection is literally equated by Thomas with degree of actuality. 
He follows Aristotle here, but he departs from him later to make 
existence the most perfect of all things. All created perfections pre- 
exist in God in a more eminent manner, since He is the world's 
cause in a way in which Aristotle's unmoved mover could never be. 
Thus, things diverse and in themselves opposed to each other pre- 
exist in God as one, without injury to His simplicity. It is quite sig- 
nificant that, in making this unusual reconciliation of multiplicity 
with unity, Thomas quotes Dionysius no fewer than five times. Good- 
ness is equated with being, and God's immutability is deduced as a 
consequence of His infinity and His pure actuality. He is eternal, 
apprehending all things as simultaneously whole and without mo- 
tion. God's unity consists of His indivisibility, His most jealously 
guarded attribute in traditional thought. 

Since one of Aristotle's primary reasons for rejecting an actual 
infinite was its unknowability (since comprehension depends upon 
limitation), Thomas' admission of an actual infinite in the single 
case of the Divine nature poses a problem of knowledge. Since in- 
finity cannot be directly comprehended, Thomas must make the 
ultimate vision of God a matter of Divine grace, which is the raising 
of the natural intellect to a higher mode of knowledge. God does not 
transcend being, but, since He is infinite form. He transcends all 
ordinary modes of knowledge. Since Aquinas agrees with Aristotle 
on the necessity of limitation in natural knowledge, no natural 


knowledge of the Divine nature itself is attainable. It is possible to 
see the essence of God, but not by means of natural knowledge. 

In this view, faith becomes a kind of knowledge. And in the end, 
Thomas seems to follow the transcendentalists and to deny that 
multiplicity in the Divine nature is constitutive of His nature. Multi- 
plicity is due solely to the fact that the weakness of our intellect 
forces us to apprehend Him in a manifold manner. Distinctions and 
multiplicity are finally seen to have only an epistemological basis 
i.e., they are derived solely from the limitations of our mode of 
knowledge and are not applicable to God as He is in Himself. At 
the crucial moment of the apprehension of the Divine nature, 
Plotinus triumphs and Aristotle fails. 

The revolution which Thomas pioneered, and which led to an 
eventual transformation, results from the ascriptions of an infinity 
of possibles to the Divine intellect. With infinity elevated to a per- 
fection, it is unthinkable to limit God's knowledge to the finite 
entities of this world. Thus, there are other things in God's knowl- 
edge, and also in His power, than the actual beings of this world. 
Although the possibles are not nor will be, nor were in existence, 
still, they are known by God and exist as possibles in the Divine 
intellect. Thomas even goes so far as to say that a better world than 
this was and is in God's power. However, since Thomas never gives 
up the priority of actuality or the subservience of the Divine will to 
both goodness and the Divine nature as a whole, no other world 
than this is genuinely possible other than in conception. Contingency 
in the Divine activity would be incompatible with a perfection that 
is defined primarily by actuality. In the doctrine of the possibles 
present in the infinity of the Divine knowledge, Aquinas has the 
seeds for a revolution in the concept of perfection, though not its 

Aquinas allows for an actual infinite, but in God alone and only 
in the infinity of form. Nevertheless, this removes the traditional 
Aristotelian linkage of form and being with limitedness. This com- 
patibility of form with infinity removes the usual classical objection 


to infinity as indeterminate and incomplete and leaves infinity free 
to become a perfection. Form implies actuality, so that any infinite, 
if it is compatible with form, is subject to none of the usual objec- 
tions of involvement with potentiality and motion. Although such 
infinity of form allows the presence of unactualized possibles in the 
Divine intellect, yet the lack of real freedom in God's choice in 
creation prevents this unrealized realm from involving God in any 
serious potentiality. He remains above time, since the exact plan of 
actualization in the act of creation is determined from eternity. 

God's goodness here plays a major role, specifying which pos- 
sibles necessarily comprise the set to be actualized, and this elim- 
inates any indeterminacy in God's nature or in His action. What 
God has present in His intellect are universal concepts, through 
which individuals are known as parts, but this mode of knowing 
effectively prevents any direct involvement of the Divine nature 
with the difficulties of particularity. Such a God is transcendent 
only as involving infinity vs. finiteness, and, as regards his full 
actuality, not as existing beyond being or knowable form. Thus, His 
simplicity and unity are not for Thomas of the extreme kind of a 
Dionysius or Plotinus. However, there are times, as I have indicated, 
when Thomas seems to take it all back and to make all distinctions 
seen in God only a reflection of the inadequacies of our mode of 
knowledge rather than a sign of any real distinction present within 
and constitutive of the Divine nature. 

Thomas advocates the negative method, but it seems to be mainly 
a method of approach which human beings find necessary, not 
actually indicative of any transcendence of reason required by the 
Divine nature itself. Positive and directly applicable attributes result 
from the negative method, and the method proceeds by denying 
predication according to an already present conception of God. In 
line with such a view, it is particularly significant to note Thomas' 
conclusion that the eternality of the world cannot be disproved 
reasonably and that creation ex nihilo has to be held as an article of 
faith. This is perfectly consistent with the general classical frame- 
work within which Aquinas sets the embryonic form of a few trans- 


forming concepts. Novel elements are present, but the overall 
scheme is still classically rational and eternal and necessary. 

Using Ockham as an example of the more radical ontology which 
arises both in his writings and in those of Duns Scotus, a new on- 
tological framework begins to appear, and as a consequence Divine 
perfection undergoes a major transformation. Perhaps most sig- 
nificant is Ockham's explicit announcement that his aim is to rid 
theology of the Greek-derived divine, immutable, and universal 
forms. His famed nominalism thus must really be understood theo- 
logically and, furthermore, as aimed specifically at opening up the 
Divine nature to the freedom of alternative action. Ockham saw the 
traditional universal ideas in the mind of God as binding God to 
necessary action, both in knowing and in creating. The removal 
of these universal ideas and the substitution of an absolute infinity of 
possible individuals is the systematic basis for the famous dictum: 
All things are possible for God, save such as involve a contradiction. 

In understanding Ockham's fundamental revisions in the con- 
ception of Divine perfection, it is almost more important to read his 
writing and to feel the novel cast of his approach than it is to know 
a few formal doctrines. There is a certain air of detachment, char- 
acteristic of the logical temperament, and especially a sense of the 
equal possibility of several arguments or modes of approach. Any 
proposition seems entertainable here, with relative merit and weight 
assigned by careful consideration. Much of his terminology, and 
certainly his style of composition, evidence the classical rigor of the 
logician. Some of the modern temperament is here, but, most im- 
portant, there is not the modern abandonment of classical problems. 
All traditional issues appear, but in a new guise. 

Truth and possibility are most rigorously defined. There is scien- 
tific knowledge only of what remains true regardless of the existence 
or non-existence of our world, which renders all statements about 
our world contingent. Possibility is limited not by the structure of 
our world but merely by the demands of logic for the absence of 
internal contradiction. Thus, our mind is immediately directed away 
from the specifics of the structure which we happen to know toward 


a logical structure of infinite extent, of which our order involves only 
a small part and but a few of the rules. The possible approaches to 
God are increased, but the finality of any statement is also propor- 
tionally reduced. We now deal in possibles and in possible state- 
ments, not in necessities and necessary conclusions. 

Most important for our knowledge of the Divine nature is the 
statement that we cannot have a concept of God that is both simple 
and at the same time proper to God. Here it is important to re- 
member that, for Ockham, we are always dealing with constructed 
logical concepts about God, never with God Himself. Thus, our 
position requires us to construct a concept jof God out of various 
pieces, which means that the result must necessarily reflect the com- 
plexity of our approach. We may most certainly reason about God 
with probability, but never with certainty. It follows that we cannot 
demonstrate that there is only one God, although we can give com- 
plex reasons for the preferability of a single First Principle. 

Ockham gives variety in philosophy a systematic basis : he main- 
tains that one may safely hold different and opposite opinions re- 
garding the mind of any author, if he is not the author of Holy 
Scriptures. Such variety is not injurious either to God or to religion, 
since a real science is not about things but about mental contents 
standing for things. Our mental contents do stand for things, but as 
they are not the things themselves, philosophical thought is free to 
follow a variety of modes of analysis of all possible mental contents. 
This detachment has its most startling result in the famous assertion 
that God could cause in us the immediate intuition of a non-existent 
sense object. To a world not so totally absorbed in epistemology as 
ours, this is not too devastating a possibility, since it arises and is con- 
sidered merely as a logical possibility, with no particular attention 
at the moment to its actual likelihood in fact. 

This is a view of Divine perfection which stresses its unlimited 
aspect, limiting possibility only by the necessity of non-contradiction, 
but keeping perfection within rational bounds by that single quali- 
fication. For "being" is defined by infinite possibles, themselves 
limited only by the necessity of containing no internal contradiction. 


But this restriction prevents the unlimited aspect of being from be- 
coming indefinite, the quality which had previously often raised 
infinity above being and beyond rationality. Being as it applies to 
God is limited only by possibility, but rationality and will (as co- 
ordinate Divine attributes) keep this from involving God in in- 
determinateness. However, God is not fully actual, as traditional 
doctrines require, in the sense that His will and power have not 
actualized all of the infinite and individual possibles that His in- 
tellect comprehends. 

Divine perfection has been fundamentally altered, but the central 
characteristic which all sought to preserve remains, i.e., self-suffi- 
ciency. The existence of unrealized possibles within the Divine 
nature seemed to earlier writers to involve God's nature in the in- 
definite and the indeterminate and thus to jeopardize the Divine 
self-sufficiency. Ockham, however, conceives possibility as unlimited 
but rational, so that when possibility is linked with the Divine will 
and understanding, it is able to preserve the necessary quality of the 
Divine as contrasted with the human, i.e., self-sufficiency. But does 
this involve the Divine nature in motion, change, and time? No, 
since God's power is unrestricted (except by the prohibition of self- 
contradiction), and His intellect is actually applicable to the full 
range of possibles simultaneously. 

What is crucial, however, is that while God is not necessarily in- 
volved in motion, change, and time, His action does become free, 
i.e., contingent. This both Ockham and Scotus wished to achieve, 
freeing the Divine action from necessity and thus opening human 
action to the same possibility that God is conceived to possess. God's 
power remains infinite and His omnipotence is unquestioned, but 
His action in creation is contingent on the final decision of His will, 
subject only to the requirements of rationality and the limitations 
imposed by the conditions necessary to constitute a creation. Criteria 
of good and evil are operative here, but not in such a way as to 
necessitate the actualization of only one set from among the possible 
individuals. It is Duns Scotus who sees most clearly that the Divine 
nature must be so conceived as to make its action in some sense 


contingent before there can be any hope of finding freedom (i.e., 
contingency) in man's action. 

Ockham's view retains another essential quality of Divinity: 
cause-of-itself and all created things continue to locate the cause 
of their existence in another being. A doctrine of creation is neces- 
sary, because there is now the need for a power sufficient to actualize 
the finite set of possibles which constitute our world, as contrasted 
with the infinite set of possible individuals. Within the Divine nature 
and compatible with its perfection non-being exists as the presence 
of logically consistent but unrealized possible individuals the Divine 
will and power did not attach to their primitive ancestors. And the 
Divine nature, i.e., our constructed conception of it, becomes neces- 
sarily complex, although unity is sustained through the unity of the 
action of the Divine will and power, working under the conditions 
of rational conception. Positive attribution is possible where the 
Divine nature is concerned ; this view of perfection does not require 
the negative approach. Essentially univocal predication may be 
made concerning God, although the procedure is intricate and 
highly structured. 




The recent widespread interest in Thomas Aquinas has often 
served to distort the picture of the philosophical and theological 
thought of his time, primarily by oversimplifying its complexity. 
Certain simplified theories of historical development have also ob- 
scured the fact that during the entire Middle Ages philosophical 
thought continually exhibited wide variety. The mystical and the 
neo-Platonic strains particularly are often underestimated as to their 
strength and their continued influence. Recent thought, both in 
philosophy and theology, has not been very sympathetic to the late 
medieval tradition, and yet without it such a contemporary theo- 
logian as Tillich and such influential philosophers as Hegel are not 
understandable. It is true that one can find in Plotinus and Dio- 
nysius a classical locus for all later transcendental tendencies, but in 



Eckhart and Cusanus certain novel developments appear which 
make them decisively modern. 

Eckhart is clear in following traditional neo-Platonism : There are 
no distinctions in God, the Divine nature is One. Although the 
trinitarian doctrine is added, it is construed so as to make each 
person of the trinity the same One in nature. Although such stress 
upon unity and the lack of distinction is quite classical, in Eckhart's 
doctrine of "disinterest" novel elements appear. Plotinus uses good 
and beauty as primary ways to speak about the One, but Eckhart 
puts disinterest higher than love. In retrospect, it appears that the 
extreme quietude and emptiness, so often thought of in connection 
with the perfection of the Plotinian One, are actually a development 
of a much more modern strain of thought. "Emptiness" is not a 
term Plotinus could possibly use about a fecund One, although the 
One does stand above distinction and above knowing. In Eckhart 
unity is made to follow from the Divine's primary quality, dis- 
interest. Both love and unity are in God, but they are secondary and 
follow from the higher quietude of disinterest. 

In Plotinian thought the One is reached through increasing full- 
ness; for Eckhart the cultivation of disinterest in the individual 
alone brings God to him. The Plotinian ascent is somewhat reversed, 
and we see the new humanism at work. When a mind is really freed 
through disinterest, God is compelled to come. The center of atten- 
tion is the human psychological state, and here one is reminded of 
the writings of Kierkegaard. Disinterest is the Divine perfection; it 
gives God his status as God; disinterest brings man into his closest 
resemblance to God. And thus stated, disinterest as the highest 
Divine perfection does not remove man by structure far from God, 
since by spiritual discipline man can achieve disinterest and thus 
likeness to the Divine nature. To be empty of things is to be full of 
God. The Plotinian One is full of all things as their source and is no 
one thing in distinction, but the idea of emptiness is foreign to 
Plotinus and central for Eckhart. 

Pure disinterest is empty nothingness. Such a description of God's 
highest perfection has no classical counterpart. It entails a lack of 


action, and the soul of man is also seen to lack action at its center. 
God has no ideas nor does He need any. The soul is the arena of 
His activity, and His action there is without instrument. Here we 
have the source of the concepts of "wilderness" and of "alienation" 
from self and from multiplicity. Classical neo-Platonism, it is true, 
had the soul turn away from multiplicity in seeking Divine perfec- 
tion, but this always involved finding the true self, and never was 
there a hint of a "wilderness" as the highest awareness of the Divine. 
Eckhart, like Plotinus and Augustine before him, finds the avenue 
to Divine understanding to be through a seeking and a finding of 
the center and essential nature of the soul. For Eckhart, however, 
perfection in God (and, in man, the finding of the Divine nature) 
involves disinterest, emptiness, quietude, nothingness, wilderness, 
and alienation. We have represented here a powerful and a novel 
advance over neo-Platonism in conceiving Divine perfection. 

If to a systematically minded philosopher Eckhart seems vague and 
unconstructed, Nicolas Cusanus 5 fifteenth-century writings, though 
they bear a close family resemblance to the core of Eckharfs ideas 
about perfection, are developed in more technical detail. Of Learned 
Ignorance is perhaps the classical expression of negative theology, a 
method stressed by and associated with an extremely transcendental 
concept of perfection. "Enlightened ignorance" is Nicolas' extension 
of traditional negative theology, and, of course, at its roots it springs 
partly from the famed "Socratic ignorance" and partly from the 
biblical insistence that God may never be seen. Understanding that 
we cannot, and why we cannot, realize our desire to see God means 
for Cusanus acquiring an ignorance that is learned, i.e., an under- 
standing of exactly why the desired goal is an impossibility. To realize 
the final impossibility of knowledge this itself requires considerable 
understanding as to why the Divine perfection raises God above our 
grasp. To know why you cannot know God fully is in some sense to 
have grasped the Divine nature. For this reason the ignorance is 

Cusanus makes unity identical with the absolute maximum, a 
traditional neo-Platonic feature, but it is this unity which places 

the study of God above reason. Yet, like the Plotinian One, this ab- 
solute maximum is the reconciliation of opposites and contains all at 
the same time that it is one, since the normal laws of distinction do 
not apply to it. This is something which cannot rationally be fully 
grasped and thus our ignorance. But the more profoundly we 
understand the reason for our ignorance the closer we are to truth 
itself. Here one is reminded of the dialectic behind Anselm's on- 
tological argument, and Cusanus uses Anselm's phrase, "that than 
which nothing greater can exist." To understand why the phrase is 
inadequate is to transcend the phrase and its structure. By argument 
you have been brought closer to God, even if it means abandoning 
the original concept of rational comprehension. "Learned igno- 
rance" is unintelligible unless it is understood as a (non-Hegelian) 
dialectical process acquiring knowledge, realizing the inadequacy 
of formulation and rational grasp, and so on without end. 

The coincidence of opposites in Cusanus 9 First Principle is evident 
in his doctrine that the minimum is identified with the maximum. It 
is true that in pre-Socratic thought we can find ontology which works 
by the contrast of opposites, but we must wait until modern thought 
before we find the assertion of the identity of these opposing con- 
cepts. Plotinus places the principles of all things together without 
distinction in his One, but the assertion of their identity by Cusanus 
is another step. Like Plotinus, however, Cusanus finds distinctions 
only on a lower ontological level, among things which are susceptible 
of "more" and "less." And this leads Cusanus to a doctrine of the 
realization of all possible perfections in the First or, rather, it is 
this doctrine which requires that the absolute maximum be all things 
and yet none of them, at once the maximum and the minimum. Thus 
we see that it is not some original pious sanctity which causes 
Cusanus to assert his ultimate ignorance about God, but actually a 
quite clear apprehension of the Divine nature which leads him to see 
the logical impossibility of making the First an item of knowledge. 

No classical theory had made a strict contradiction applicable to 
God. Cusanus does, because he is rationalist enough to refuse to 
suspend the laws of logic. The complexity of the Divine as the ulti- 


mate source of all leads him to make statements which are opposed 
to each other. Were he to surrender logic in the sense of discursive 
thought at this point, as Plotinus tends to do, then he might not be 
driven so firmly toward a doctrine of learned ignorance. Strangely 
enough, it is his extreme rationalism, his refusal to surrender the dis- 
tinctions necessary to reason, which forces him to place God beyond 
knowledge. Cusanus says that there is no difference between these 
two statements: "God is light" and "God is light at its lowest." 
Thus logic is driven into silence when it apprehends God, because it 
can neither surrender the distinctions necessary to its life nor rec- 
oncile the opposed statements. 

Our rational process is not able to reconcile contradictions, and 
the fullness of all possible statements which Cusanus finds that he 
must make about God, as cause of all of the natural order, leads to 
an impossible combination of necessary attributes. It is precisely this 
clear vision of the ultimate complexity of God which places Him 
beyond our understanding, not our inability to apprehend Him. 
Only one who actually apprehends God can have a full appreciation 
of the difficulty in knowing Him in any definitive way. God's per- 
fection, as locus of all possible perfections, is fully intelligible yet 
recognized as beyond our comprehension. If Cusanus could trans- 
cend discursive reason and find another mode of knowing, he might 
overcome his resultant ignorance, but, unlike Plotinus and Dionysius, 
he cannot. 

Here we begin to find a concept of unity that makes it compatible 
with variety, as the actuality of all that is possible, For Cusanus it is 
the full realization, and the ontological priority, of the possibles, 
which leads him to reshape the limitations of classical ontology. Non- 
being is made identical with the maximum, since it is a possible 
form of existence. Unity, equality, and connection are made a trinity 
of concepts through which one can grasp the First. Such a unity is 
the modified unity (i.e., one which contains within its definition a 
relation to multiplicity) which Plato prefers in his Parmenides. 
Mathematical concepts become important for understanding things 
Divine; symbols, of course, become the sole possible approach to a 


knowledge of God's nature. A doctrine of the nature of God such as 
this is always behind a preference for symbolic knowledge, in virtue 
of which symbols are not only an appropriate approach but a neces- 

The Divine perfection is clearly conceived by Cusanus as the 
infinite actualization of all that is simply and absolutely possible. 
Absolute possibility and infinite actual existence are perfectly identi- 
fied. The very scope of such a concept itself is what necessitates the 
ignorance at the end of the knowing process. Even contradictions 
are encompassed by God, which is another stumbling block in 
reason's way. This leads naturally to a preference for negative the- 
ology, where negative propositions can be true but affirmative propo- 
sitions can in the nature of the case never be adequate. Our final 
position is to see that such a nature exists but also to see that, pre- 
cisely because of what we know about it, we cannot comprehend it, 
The seeds of transformation in ontological structure, planted by the 
early theological interest in infinity, have gradually produced a 
change in ontological concepts until they seem to have completed a 
radical transformation with Eckhart and Cusanus. 

Possibility becomes absolutely central and is asserted to descend 
from eternal unity, when previously it was precisely the demand for 
unity as a Divine perfection which excluded possibility. Cusanus 
asserts that we must begin by studying possibility, whereas Aristotle 
had insisted on the absolute priority of actuality, both for ontology 
and for the process of knowledge. Absolute possibility is God, a 
statement which now has meaning in the light of the ontological 
development but which would have shocked classical Greek thought. 
The so-called "modern" period which follows will actually revert to 
a more conservative and traditional ontological framework; but, 
whenever the centrality of theory of knowledge is overcome, the 
argument must proceed from the radical developments in ontology 
wrought at the close of the Middle Ages. Although overlooked dur- 
ing the "modem" period, the late Middle Ages (that era so often 
spurned as sterile and rigid) itself contains the formulation of con- 
temporary ontological problems. 




With Scotus and Ockham a new view of Divine perfection, 
highly illuminating in the altered solutions it made possible to clas- 
sical problems, had begun to emerge. Strangely enough, with the 
divorce between philosophy and theology that soon occurred, 
modern philosophers who treated theological questions reverted to 
much more traditional theological views. Spinoza's philosophy is 
radical in some respects, but in its view of Divine perfection it is 
quite traditional, almost reactionary. Leibniz incorporates some of 
the new emphasis upon the contingent and the possible, but in his 
final solution he is very close to the Thomistic view of the necessary 
process of selection by which the Divine nature is bound. Divine 
will is rejected as an important factor by Spinoza and Leibniz, and 
both Divine and human action thus become subjected to a rational 



Perhaps Spinoza's most crucial statement is his identification of 
reality with perfection: "By reality and perfection I understand the 
same thing" (Ethics, Pt. II, Def. VI). It is true that all classical 
thought had associated perfection with the actual, but here a further 
step is taken and perfection is identified with the actual. The result 
is the elimination of any room for possible, but unrealized, entities. 
All reality now becomes part of the Divine nature, embraced in 
necessity and fully actualized under eternity's perspective. God's 
own existence had always been conceived as necessary and purged 
of potentiality, but here both God and the world are embraced by 
actuality, and reality is equated with perfection. The doctrine of 
infinite attributes becomes necessary (in place of possible worlds in 
the Divine mind) in order not to limit the Divine nature. 

God, or substance, has for Spinoza the usual primary attribute of 
necessary existence, expressed as "cause-of-itself." This places sub- 
stance in contrast with all particular things, the cause for each of 
which must be located in another being. Not only is substance in- 
finite in a particular kind (i.e., thought) , but it is absolutely infinite, 
which makes extension necessarily a part of the Divine nature. This 
no longer involves God in potentiality, since lack of fulfillment does 
not exist in an infinite perspective, a perspective which Spinoza and 
- his God can adopt, as against Aristotle who could neither conceive of 
such a viewpoint nor conceive of the ontology which it makes pos- 
sible. Freedom, of course, can now only mean necessity (the way of 
most classical thought), since no unrealized possibles exist; and 
such freedom is a goal not presently attained by any individual. 
Freedom remains, but only in the sense that it means "determined 
to action by itself alone," a definition which applies primarily to 
God and to finite beings to the degree that, their understanding 
improved, they come to view themselves as part of an absolutely 
infinite substance. 

There could be only one such substance, so that in this sense the 
traditional perfection of unity is maintained, although it is a unity 
containing absolute variety within it. Everything is ultimately under- 
stood adequately only through God, which preserves God as the 


traditional object of wisdom's quest, although understanding such a 
God involves a grasp of the world's complexity at the same time. 
God's actions are free, in the sense that no external force can compel 
him, but there are no alternatives to our present mode of actualiza- 

"Creation" is really eliminated as a concept, and Spinoza's re- 
version is to something very much like the Plotinian necessary em- 
anation. God could not be without His effects, since His very nature 
includes them and there are no alternative sets of possibles. Con- 
tingency, usually kept out of the Divine nature, is now eliminated 
completely not only from God but from individual things as well. 
"Will" becomes only reason's tendency to accept a true idea and 
is a necessary cause. Some earlier philosophers had tried to keep con- 
tingency out of the Divine nature and yet allow some measure of 
freedom to man, and a few had even tried to allow God a small 
amount of freedom and man a little less. Within Spinoza's thought 
structure we see Scotus' maxim applied with a vengeance : if there 
is no contingency in the First Cause in causing there is no con- 
tingency in any second cause in acting. For in Spinoza's thought, 
both God and men are equally embraced by the necessity which 
perfection demands. The Divine will, to which theologians often 
appeal in order to introduce contingency, Spinoza dismisses as the 
refuge of ignorance. 

Imperfection in man remains only in the form of inadequate ideas 
and as the passive emotions which these necessarily involve. God's 
perfection may still be distinguished from that of the finite, since 
God's ideas are fully adequate. Considered under the aspect of 
eternity, He is involved in no passive emotions. Sorrow as a passive 
emotion, then, becomes the mark of the imperfect, so that the 
Divine perfection is characterized by a lack of all emotion, except 
the joy which accompanies God's intellectual love (i.e., through 
man's comprehension in adequate ideas) of Himself. 

Primary among the perfections of substance is its full actuality, 
that is, its existence as the adequate cause of all things and thus its 
freedom from suffering or the possession of passive emotions. In 


contrast, our human minds act at times and at times suffer. The 
perfection of God, or substance, frees it from such imperfection, be- 
cause it is the adequate cause of every existing thing. Were there 
any being or action of which God could not be said to be the im- 
mediate cause, then He too would be subject to sorrow and passive 
emotions, because of His inability to conceive these through His own 
nature alone. Men are imperfect only in the sense of their not yet 
enlightened perspective of the causal nexus. Their understanding of 
their existence is merely a part of substance, in contrast to the goal 
of understanding the whole. 

God, of course, strives for nothing, since all possibles are in ex- 
istence, or become actual when viewed under the aspect of eternity, 
and He needs nothing outside of Himself to persevere in His being. 
Our need of external objects keeps us subject to emotions and causes 
us to call things "good" and "evil" as they help or hinder our con- 
tinued mode of existence. God's perfection, being equated with what 
is real, has no such needs, since nothing exists outside of substance. 
The life of God, or substance, is entirely an internal affair, without 
alternative, devoid of passive emotion and, since self-contained and 
adequately conceived, neither good nor evil, but simply what it is. 

Spinoza certainly stresses the unlimited aspect of Divine perfec- 
tion, extending God's nature as he does infinitely beyond conception 
in his famous doctrine of infinite attributes. We know only two of 
these, thought and extension, but we do not limit God's nature by 
the boundaries of our ability to think. Not only is God infinite in 
kind, as, for example, in Thomas' infinity of form. Substance is 
absolutely infinite, which makes absolutely every kind of being a 
part of God. Here matter is taken up into the Divine nature as a 
part of it, no longer the destroyer of perfection because of its poten- 
tialities. The famed potentialities, usually thought to be necessarily 
present in matter, may now be brought under conception, since 
there is an idea paralleling every mode of extension. The Divine 
nature is different in kind from our world, but only in the sense that 
it includes the attributes of our known world as only two from 
among an actual infinity of attributes. 


Nothing is indefinite save as, when viewed by human passive emo- 
tion, obscure understanding makes it appear so. Nothing is in- 
determinate, except as our understanding does not adequately grasp 
the causes which are operative. Potentiality reflects only an inade- 
quate mode of comprehension, which disappears when things are 
viewed under the aspect of eternity. Nothing is self-sufficient except 
substance taken as a whole, which means that an essential depend- 
ency of existence still characterizes all finite modes. Motion is a part 
of God, but this does not imply an imperfection, since all is seen as 
realized when it is viewed under eternity. 

Freedom becomes only a lack of external restriction, and does not 
exist in the sense of alternative routes of action. This restricts free- 
dom to a property belonging only to God, or to ourselves when we 
are viewed as part of God; and this equates freedom with necessity. 
Time still characterizes the existence of all modes, but all entities 
may also be seen under the timeless perspective of eternity, which is 
man's rational and ethical goal. Plurality is without limit and is 
placed within the Divine nature, but unity is preserved through the 
existence of only one such substance. No ultimate chaos is to be 
found, inadequacy of understanding being the only remaining 
source of indeterminacy. Ultimately, nothing may elude reason's 
grasp or obscure any aspect of the absolutely infinite nature of sub- 

Evil and good both disappear in God, being present only as the 
result of our finite need for things outside of ourselves. God's power 
is perfect and fully realized, restrained from full actualization by 
nothing, and ultimately identical with substance's self -understanding. 
Knowledge is the supreme characteristic of substance, but finite 
creatures may become Divine through sharing in this perfect causal 
understanding, open to them (as it was not in most previous views) 
without theoretical barriers. Substance alone is perfect as being 
cause-of-itself, but it is no more transcendent that it is immanent, 
although it certainly is both. Non-being has no ultimate role here, 
since all being is ultimately actualized without remainder. Nothing 
lacks being in so far as it is actual, and the only lack of actuality 


which appears is not ultimate but merely the result of inadequate 
understanding, the causes for which we can now delineate and 

Creation merely means temporal coming into being, never a 
radical origin, since God's decrees are part of His nature and are 
co-eternal with Him. Distinction is certainly present within a Divine 
nature that embraces the natural world as a part, but division is 
prevented by the absolutely infinite reach of substance and the full 
reality of all possibles. God's nature does not require that the nega- 
tive approach be used, since our minds, as part of the infinite in- 
tellect of God, participate in God's own understanding of Himself. 

Leibniz is most popularly known for his Monadology, but it is 
primarily in his Theodicy that one must look to find his view of the 
Divine perfection. It is true that, as a condensation, the Monadology 
contains glimpses of his doctrine, but it is chiefly in justifying the 
ways of God to man in creation (the theme of theodicy) that the 
nature of Divine perfection is best clarified. For God's action in 
creation can neither be explained nor accounted for except by ref- 
erence to the nature of His perfection. Freedom and evil are facts 
which can only be interpreted by reference to the concept of God's 
goodness, which is the operation of His nature as perfect. And Leib- 
niz 3 task here is a modern one, since the explanation of God's choice 
in creation is only a meaningful question within an ontology in 
which possibles exist beyond those actualizable in this world. The 
traditional limitation of possibility (to merely the potential within 
the structure we find actualized) has with Leibniz been set aside 
once and for all. 

Like Thomas, Scotus, and Ockham, Leibniz takes the meta- 
physically possible to be limited by nothing other than the law of 
non-contradiction. This being the case and admitting the non- 
actuality of at least part of any such an absolutely infinite set the 
problem of theodicy is posed : to account for God's selection in such 
a way as to make the existence of evil in the actualized world com- 
patible with God's goodness. Unlike Plato's gods, who are made re- 
sponsible only for the good (which is essentially the neo-Platonic 


and Augustinian answer, too ) , God must be made to account for all 
that we find actual, including what men call good and what they 
call evil. When no other world but our own is possible (as for 
Spinoza), the problem is less severe. When the high Middle Ages 
lifts the restrictions upon the possibles in God's knowledge, then the 
concept of Divine perfection becomes more difficult and also more 

Leibniz' answer, although posed within a modern ontological 
framework, is essentially traditional and conservative. As they were 
for Thomas, the alternative possibles are really possible only logi- 
cally. The goodness of God and the possibles, when taken together, 
are such as to permit only the actualization of our present constella- 
tion. When both Thomas and Leibniz say that God might have 
created a better world, they speak purely hypothetically ; actual 
reference to the nature of God and His perfection requires what we 
in fact find present. This is the basis for the famous doctrine of the 
best of all possible worlds. Traditional ontologies knew of no possible 
worlds other than ours (save perhaps a few hints to be found in the 
pre-Socratics). Leibniz expands the possibles, but his conservative 
view of Divine perfection leads him to the same practical outcome 
that the traditionalists took for granted as their starting point. 

In the preface to the Theodicy Leibniz glimpses a more novel 
solution to the problem when he says that the perfections of God are 
as those of our soul, for it has not usually been to the soul that the 
tradition had turned for its model of Divine perfection. However, 
a necessitarian view of human action (ironically enough, originally a 
consequence necessitated by a different view of Divine perfection) 
soon robs Leibniz' model of any potential radicalism. Predestination 
rules the Monadology, which seems to be a necessity for the modern 
rationalist, and God then surely cannot escape to action which is 
based on a decision between genuine alternatives. To be sure, the 
doctrine of the possibles has provided logical alternatives for Divine 
action, but God's mode of action upon them in original creative 
choice is the element which still yields the classical necessity we find 
present in our world, in our actions, and also in God's. 


God pre-establishes the truth (i.e., the form) of future events in 
establishing their causes. Yet very early Leibniz claims to hold to a 
balance between liberty and absolute necessity and to establish an 
indifference in freedom. However, the fine print in the contract 
must be read here before one hails this document as a metaphysical 
basis for human liberty, such as might be found in Scotus and Ock- 
ham. For the freedom Leibniz provides consists in establishing the 
existence of a realm of logically non-contradictory possibles, which 
stand in contrast to the actuality of our world; but it does not con- 
sist in alternatives which are still allowable even from the standards 
which God's perfection demands as a basis for His choice. Pre- 
established harmony governs our actual world, just as it governs 
God's original act in creation. Leibniz rejects Spinoza's "geomet- 
rical" necessity as a perfection governing God; but he substitutes 
a logical possibility of alternatives, which, when coupled with the 
necessary criteria, combine to make it necessary that a certain set 
of possibles be selected. 

The principle of "universal harmony" is perhaps most important 
in Leibniz' conception of perfection, for it is a harmony that ex- 
cludes the actualization of any possibles which are not cornpossible, 
i.e., capable of simultaneous existence without logical and also, 
apparently, actual contradiction. Of course, this requires "intelli- 
gence" as a primary perfection in God as the First Principle, since 
reasoning among possibles is required for creation in a way it never 
was in neo-Platonism. "Will" is also a primary and irreducible per- 
fection, since actualization means the attachment of power, through 
an act of will, to some possibles and not to others. "Infinity," of 
course, is a perfection and, as for all moderns, troubles Leibniz not in 
the least. It is possible for him to understand and deal with infinity 
in a way which would have startled Aristotle. 

Goodness as a perfection requires that God choose the best set 
from among the possibles, and God would be imperfect, i.e., correct- 
able by man, if it were not so. Why, then, is there physical and 
metaphysical evil? Although there is an infinity of possible worlds, 
Leibniz answers, all of them contain some evil, so God has not the 


choice of avoiding evU by actualizing another conceivable world. 
And His will is determined by goodness, so that God actualizes 
according to the proportion of good contained (this being de- 
termined by a fixed, single scale), a world without evil being impos- 
sible. But God cannot create another God; therefore all creatures 
contain limitations and possess only certain degrees of perfection. 
Here Leibniz distinguishes certainty from necessity and introduces 
the doctrine of the "inclination" of the will. The course of the will 
is certain, being inclined by the nature of the possibles, but it is not 
necessary since other possibles than those He is certain to actualize 
are logically real. 

Contingency enters into this scheme only in the sense that alterna- 
tive courses of action are logically consistent and conceivable, but 
there is a sufficient reason for every actualization that makes its 
route and result certain. Prevailing indination always triumphs; 
contingency remains real because the existence of logically real 
possibles eliminates the absolute necessity involved in allowing onto- 
logical existence to nothing other than our world and its potentiali- 
ties. Even the imperfections in the universe which God actually 
constituted do not imply that it is not better than every other pos- 
sible universe. The best of the possibles have been actualized, God 
acting as a perfect cause. Some evil is present in any possible uni- 
verse; and some imperfection of parts may be required for a greater 
perfection of the whole, our limited perspectives obstructing our 
comprehending this at times. 

Imperfection comes from necessary limitations, which means that 
no creation can be accomplished without imperfection. Yet, what 
we have is the greatest variety possible within the simplest basic 
plan. Greater variety would bring certain advantages but reduce the 
advantage of simplicity. Thus God's perfection acting in creation 
struck a compromise here, and our resulting world is the best 
possible, considering the balancing of criteria which was and is 
necessary. Taken in part, our world might be better; but when all 
the criteria are taken as a whole, we see the goodness of the possibles 
inclining the Divine will toward the particular action which He in 


fact took, although not as if other unrealized possibles were not very 
much in His view. 

This blend in Leibniz of the traditional necessity in perfection 
with the expansion of the field of possibles to an absolute infinity is 
curious indeed. His ontological framework is radically altered, but 
the classical limitation of God to one course of action remains. 
Thomas put a traditional stress on necessity but allowed an ontolo- 
gical expansion of the possibles in the Divine nature. Leibniz, like 
a true modern, begins with the possibles ( anything being conceivable 
and therefore possible that does not involve a contradiction ) , but he 
nonetheless views God's perfection as requiring necessary selection 
and predestination. Infinity is surely a ruling concept in perfection, 
as against the early tradition, and God's nature is not fully actual 
but contains more possibles than could ever be realizable. The denial 
of full actuality does not demean God's perfection, as it might have 
traditionally, since His choice in actualization remains ultimately a 
necessary one. 

Motion is thus eliminated, which might have been introduced into 
the Divine nature by a doctrine of the possibles. Freedom is present 
as the existence of logical alternatives, although necessity still gov- 
erns choice. Plurality must have a higher status in such a concept of 
perfection, although never the plurality of choice, since this remains 
singular. Evil is placed among the possibles in the Divine nature, a 
modern innovation; but the necessary criteria which govern choice 
and the maximization of compatible goods removes any possible 
reproach from God. (Job misunderstands the lack of choice really 
open to Divine action and God's necessity to compromise in any 
creation.) God is infinitely powerful, but His power is exercised only 
under necessary guidance. What is compossible we have. More than 
that neither God can do nor man can ask of action so rationally 





Nearly every major form of contemporary philosophical the- 
ology can either directly or indirectly trace at least one part of its 
ancestry to Kant or Hegel. Kant's fatherhood belongs to those who 
abstain from metaphysical construction in theology and to those 
who begin their constructive work either with a theory of knowledge 
or with an epistemological prolegomenon designed to apologize for 
its possibility. For symbolic convenience, even those who trace their 
origins to Hume can be counted under the negative and empirical 
side of Kant's critical method. Although it may have lacked philo- 
sophical assistance in its constructive efforts, theology has not lacked 
attention since the time of Hume and Kant, Perhaps most charac- 
teristic of this epoch has been the continued effort expended on the 
preliminaries of philosophical theology. The old question has been 



posed in new ways, i.e., whether the construction of a doctrine of 
the Divine nature is possible. 

"Kantians of the first Critique" (i.e., those who stress the primacy 
of that volume) are closely akin to Hume's empirically-minded 
heirs in insisting on the priority of, if not the exclusive preoccupation 
with, epistemological and logical questions. Thus, a great deal of 
theology has become a uniquely modern form of apologetics and 
finds it difficult if not impossible to return to the speculative and 
constructive task. Much theology of the past hundred years has 
found itself unable to escape from Kant's paralyzing methodological 
criticism, and this accounts for the comparative scarcity of genuinely 
creative and constructive theologies (other than those carrying to 
completion the fruitful suggestions of the nineteenth century) . Here 
the theological and metaphysical apologists are mirror images of 
their empirical critics, wishing to come to different conclusions but 
asking essentially the same questions. Perhaps nothing has been 
more healthy and at the same time more stultifying in its effect 
upon constructive effort than the empirical critique launched by 
Hume, supported by one side of Kant and continued in the present 
age by several schools. 

"Kantians of the second Critique'' have largely been responsible 
for the ethical basis which some recent theology has adopted, as well 
as the predominant value orientation characteristic of much current 
philosophical thought. If epistemological questions have paralyzed 
direct discussions of the Divine nature, this line of thought argues, 
then perhaps theology can be constructed upon and oriented by a 
primarily ethical basis. Undoubtedly Kant is here influenced by the 
Reformation, which once again stressed the ethical side of Chris- 
tianity as opposed to its philosophical and speculative side. But 
whatever its origins, the group who follow Kant here have found it 
possible to construct theologies within an ethical framework, even 
when they continued to feel skeptical about the possibility of any 
direct knowledge of the Divine nature. Since Kant published the 
second Critique, much theology has become simply a general ethical 
theory, but its major problem has been, and still is, to escape the 


domination of mere local custom and provincial ethical standards. 

"Kantians of the third Critique" are a much rarer species. Even 
dedicated Kantians admit that the third Critique is Kant's most 
difficult writing to interpret, and yet it is here that the connection 
is to be made with Hegel, and it is here that the speculative side of 
Kant appears. The third Critique contains some suggestion of the 
possibility of transcending the forms and categories which limit our 
mode of knowledge. More important, it is here that the possibility 
appears for some direct knowledge of the self as a noumenal entity. 
Previously Kant had allowed metaphysics to be actual merely as a 
natural disposition of reason, not as a constructed doctrine, and God 
was to be known only indirectly through the requirements of the 
ethical life. But with the third Critique as a basis, it seems possible 
to find a ground for direct statement about the Divine nature, but 
this positive and constructive suggestion by Kant has largely come to 
be identified with its Hegelian development. 

The empirical side of Kant may be used to explain the discon- 
tinuance of the classical questions about Divine perfection which is 
characteristic of so much of the contemporary scene. And the ethical 
side of Kant may be given as an explanation of the almost complete 
transformation of much theological thought into theoretical and 
practical ethics. Thus, when the question of Divine perfection is 
raised, it stands in a more tenuous context in the present era than 
it ever did in most pre-eighteenth-century discussion. There are con- 
temporary constructive efforts today, most of which can be traced 
to Hegel. But, if the time is ripe for a revival of speculative theo- 
logical and metaphysical effort, it is to the great centuries of con- 
structive work beginning with the Greeks that one must turn in 
order not to be either immobilized by the Humian and Kantian 
critique or prejudiced in approach and in the formulation of the 
issues by the unparalleled dominance which Hegel has come to have 
over constructive thought. An historical revival is necessary in order 
to restore a needed balance to theological method and to free it from 
the domination of modes of thought which are merely recent. 

Perhaps Hegel's view of Divine perfection can best be grasped by 


comparing it with Plotinus 3 doctrine. As was noted before, if Plato's 
model of perfection is the level of existence given to the forms, it is 
characteristic that Plotinus begins his analysis with the soul. Con- 
sidering Kant's epistemological skepticism, it is interesting that the 
soul is also Hegel's starting point and constant model. But Hegel is 
not merely a modern day Plotinian. Plotinus, discovering a govern* 
ing principle of unity within the soul's life, extracts this as the model 
of perfection, leaving the soul in its full life to occupy a lower level 
in the Divine hierarchy. Thus reason is transcended and is not 
Plotinus' ultimate guide, Hegel, however, preserves the ideal soul 
as his model of perfection and thus never arrives at pure unity or 
transcends reason. Hegel always retains the distinctions of thought 
as his guide. 

This explains HegePs distinctive revolution in the doctrine of 
Divine perfection, namely the introduction of motion as not only 
compatible with but necessarily characteristic of Divinity. It must 
not be overlooked that there are times when Plotinus describes the 
One as if it contained movement, but the important point is that 
distinction and the rationality of thought are for Plotinus necessarily 
transcended in the ultimate sphere. The rationality of the pattern 
of the self's development is only a starting point, not a model, for 
Plotinus; for Hegel the depth of the self's existence is itself the key. 
For Hegel the pattern of Divine activity can be traced and compre- 
hended rationally, and motion becomes absolutely necessary to the 
proper understanding of the Divine life. Inclusiveness and relations 
are with Hegel made central to perfection. These can be attained or 
grasped rationally, never as at rest but only through a process. 

For Plotinus it is safe to say that motion is characteristic of all 
that proceeds from the One but is not ultimately constitutive of the 
One itself. It is otherwise with Hegel. If we need an historical 
location, Hegel as well as any figure can serve as a symbol for the 
elevation of motion to become a primary characteristic of Divine per- 
fection. Rational development now characterizes both the perfect 
and the imperfect. In fact, the development of the latter is to be 
understood as the self-expression of the former, without which it 


would remain unfulfilled and thus unself-conscious and imperfect. 
The Absolute has to be conceived essentially as a result, Hegel tells us 
in the Phenomenology. This is as radical a change in the concept of 
perfection as has ever been attempted, and the contemporary scene 
is almost totally under the spell cast by this novelty. 

The Absolute is to be represented as Spirit. If this is to remain its 
ultimate perfection, then it will require the development of a com- 
plete and fully rational system, in order for its perfection to be realized 
and in order for the mind to understand it adequately. When on- 
tological perfection was devoid of motion, propositions could be true 
independently of one another, but coherence and system come to be 
required as the criteria of truth when what is ontologically ultimate 
and perfect is also necessarily in motion. Where scientific knowl- 
edge was concerned, Aristotle defined substance as universal form; 
now Hegel defines its essence as subject, and the self becomes the 
source in which a doctrine of perfection must be found. Since no 
self remains self-identical, only a system which grasps and represents 
both change and opposition can express truth. Being has the charac- 
ter of self, is motion. 

The basis of a philosophy of organism is here propounded, and 
this means that thought can be both systematic and comprehensive 
only if it duplicates the organic process of motion, here seen as consti- 
tutive of perfection itself. The very nature of understanding is to be 
a process, and this does not, as it does for Aquinas, reflect our in- 
adequate modes of knowing but rather merely reflects the nature of 
Divine life. Nor is reason transcended in the quest for perfection, 
since the total process may be dialectically grasped. What is rational 
is the rhythm of the organic whole. Our world and selves represent 
the process of the Absolute becoming "conscious of itself," so that 
the processes of our world and lives become necesarily a part of the 
understanding of Divine perfection. Consciousness, selfhood, and 
rationality are not transcended but are exalted, since motion and 
process are now compatible with perfection. In fact, Spirit is real 
only as the moving process of the aspects which it possesses. 

God has existence in nature as well as in spirit, which is reminis- 


cent of Spinoza's view of thought and extension as the two primary 
attributes of substance or God. However, Spinoza keeps one side of 
God traditionally motionless. He identifies the ideal of perfection 
(and thus of rationality and of the ethical life) with God as motion- 
less, i.e., as viewed under the aspect of eternity. Like Spinoza, Hegel 
not only includes the process of the world within the Divine life as 
its necessary expression, but he makes the process essentially charac- 
teristic of the Divine life and thus makes his God more centrally a 
person than could ever have been true for Spinoza. In compre- 
hensiveness, inclusiveness, and the ultimacy of rationality Spinoza 
and Hegel are alike; however Spinoza retains the classical view of 
the motionless vision of the Divine perspective while Hegel trans- 
forms the Divine life itself, modeling it after the pattern of the 
human self. 

Like Augustine, Hegel finds God by starting from his own con- 
sciousness; unlike Augustine this starting point also serves as the 
primary norm for Divine perfection. The incarnation in a human self 
of such a Divinity, of course, is not only easily conceivable but be- 
comes almost necessary to the complete self-development of such a 
God. The Divine nature is intuitively apprehended as being the same 
as the human, since Hegel begins with self-consciousness as Kant 
could not do. When the absolute Being exists as a concrete actual 
self -consciousness, this is not an essentially difficult concept as it was 
for the previous tradition ; for such a Being must come so to exist in 
order to attain its highest nature. Individual self-consciousness, 
taken as the starting point and the norm for perfection, now requires 
of God individual and self-conscious existence for the completion 
of Divine perfection. This is true of all history and is not confined to 
one moment. 

God is revealed, and is only real, as Spirit. Thus movement is 
compatible with perfection as the necessary expression of absolute 
Being as a Spirit. Not to grasp absolute Being as Spirit is to grasp 
nothing. This, of course, leads to the important Hegelian notion of 
the rationality, the necessity, and the perfection of opposition, of 


struggle and of progress through cancellation. This we know to be 
the inmost nature of the self, to struggle with opposing tendencies 
and to bring them to resolution, and this process, in its perfect ex- 
pression, now becomes God's life. As otherness, and thus opposition, 
are part of any conscious self, so they now become Divine attributes 
and are made perfect. God's perfection consists in maintaining self- 
identity in the face of the negative and its resulting opposition. Such 
conflict results from uniting the abstract with the concrete, a process 
which both Spinoza and Hegel insist on as necessary for Divinity, 
although in different ways* 

God's life as perfect must include the particular and opposed 
aspects of individual existence, hence the Divine life comes to actu- 
ality through process and struggle. The abstract must include the 
other than itself, the concrete particular. Only a process could make 
God to be God (i.e., perfect or fulfilled) under these circumstances. 
Unity is maintained as a classical hallmark of perfection, since dis- 
tinctions and oppositions are in the form of moments which are 
overcome and included in the fully realized process. Alienation is as 
much a part of the Divine nature as it is of human nature. Evil is 
not opposed to the Divine nature but is a part of its necessary im- 
petus to full self-consciousness. As for Spinoza, nothing can be ex- 
ternal to absolute Being, which means that every aspect of individual 
existence must become a moment in the realization of its own per- 

Truth is not a state or a statement but a process, a rational move- 
ment. The moments as much are as they are not, and this is the 
character of thought and the process which is Spirit. The unity here 
is to be found in the fact that distinctions and oppositions appear 
merely as moments, transcended in the fully realized self -conscious- 
ness. Even God must be reconciled with His own existence, which 
means that He must lose abstractness and alienation through in- 
carnation and death. This movement through its whole self consti- 
tutes the actual reality of God, without which He could not attain 
perfection. It is through action that Spirit is Spirit, so it must be 


through historical action that God becomes God. When one reads 
Hegel he comes to realize the truth of the maxim: There is nothing 
new under the sun since the time of Hegel. 

God can only come to know Himself through process, which is 
accomplished as actual history. And this brings out another side of 
Hegelian ontology which has perhaps dominated theology even 
more thoroughly than his metaphysical conception of perfection as 
process (a basic idea which all later process and organismic meta- 
physicians merely borrow as a theme and elaborate upon) . For it is 
in Hegel that we must find the primary force that has driven part of 
philosophy and most of theology into historical and cultural analysis. 
This is a perfectly obvious consequence of Hegel's view of the nature 
of the Divine existence. If God becomes perfect (i.e., complete) and 
self-conscious only through the unfolding of historical and natural 
phenomena, then it is logical to turn to history, to sociology, to psy- 
chology, to the arts and to literature and to expect to find unfolded 
there profound theological insight. 

When God's life was more detached from the actions of nature 
and of men, the theological and metaphysical task was in a real 
sense much easier. Would it be an exaggeration to pin a century of 
fantastic effort expended in historical and cultural analysis onto an 
idea of Hegel? Surely it would be impossible to account for the 
quantity of historical research and the intensity of the sociological 
and cultural inquiry if men did not hope to gain from it some pro- 
found understanding of ultimate reality, and this is possible only on 
Hegel's basic view of the nature of, and the approach which we 
must make to, God. It is Hegel and his descendants, then, who must 
be held responsible for the prominence of history and culture in 
recent theology, since neither Hume nor Kant nor the previous 
tradition provides any optimistic ground for such an interest. If 
process is not ultimately characteristic of the Divine nature and 
compatible with His perfection, then no study of process could hope 
to yield first principles for our understanding of God or man or the 
natural order. 

Kant and Hume gave philosophical theology its methodological 


and its epistemologically absorbing concern, and Kant provided the 
possibility of a metaphysically agnostic theology based upon the 
ethical life. Hegel gave philosophy and theology good reason to be 
interested in the process of history as revelatory, and theology built 
on cultural and psychological analyses became a reality. Without the 
critical empiricism of Kant or Hegel's revised concept of Divine per- 
fection, little of this revolution would have been possible. In con- 
trast to the preceding twenty or twenty-five centuries, most theology 
and metaphysics since Kant and Hegel has been a variation on one 
or more of the basic themes which they formulated. 

If Kant at least in the side which he shares with Hume can 
be held responsible for the abandonment of the traditional meta- 
physical questions in theology, it is Hegel who has fixed the concepts 
which are now basic to all subsequent constructive attempts (con- 
struction being contrasted with the revival of a traditional view). 
As far as infinity is concerned, few metaphysical arguments could 
appear to be so well settled at this point. Infinity now is the natural 
atmosphere of all theological work, and it is not only compatible 
with rationality but becomes reason's fullest and only free expres- 
sion. But such infinity as characteristic of Divinity's nature and 
thought is neither indefinite nor incomplete, although its completion 
for Hegel involves its expression in the historical realm. At any 
moment it may be indeterminate, since the oppositions and particu- 
larities of human existence and consciousness are part of its life. The 
process involves overcoming these aspects of indeterminacy. 

Potentiality has thus become compatible with perfection, since the 
actuality of Divinity is only achieved through actualizing the poten- 
tialities (including some actualized through opposition and destruc- 
tion) of the historical and human world. However, in keeping with 
the tradition, Hegel never sacrifices the self-sufficiency of the Divine 
life. Its development is a necessary one (another classical feature), 
and it is essentially the process which determines the particulars, not 
the indeterminate individual moments which guide the self -realizing 
process. The process makes the particulars what they are, although 
it is true that the realization of perfection is possible only through 


the opposition inherent in individual moments; such conflict alone 
provides the passion from which flows the energy to actualize. 

Freedom, as for Spinoza, is to be found in the self-realization of 
the whole of Spirit. By accepting what the process yields from its 
oppositional (i.e., dialectical) progress, the individual becomes truly 
himself and in that sense achieves freedom. Even if the theological 
and the metaphysical element is often missing, existentialism (e.g., 
Kierkegaard) can nevertheless be viewed as essentially Hegelian in 
its stress upon the necessity of, and the edification provided by, suf- 
fering. This is especially evident in the existentialist interest in the 
individual consciousness as the key to understanding our situation. 
All that is missing in existentialism is the transformation of this view 
of individual life into a rational and comprehensive doctrine of the 
expression and the development of Divine self-consciousness. 

Unity is maintained by Hegel as a system, although plurality is 
given stress as individual moments without which the comprehensive 
development would have no material or life force. Chaos, as in 
most classical views, is banished and form made compatible (as 
in Aquinas) with infinity and now (in Hegel) also with process. 
Power is most certainly central to perfection in such a concept as 
Hegel's, and one finds a strange affinity here to that important but 
undeveloped passage in Plato's Statesman where power is identified 
with being. Since rationality always characterizes such a compre- 
hensive and partially destructive process, knowledge remains a 
primary perfection of the Divine. Here motion does not deny the 
possibility of a rigorous science, as it would for Aristotle, but instead 
completes it. Being and non-being are equally ultimate and both are 
compatible with perfection, since these basic opposites provide the 
very source of opposition, and thus also of power and motion. 

Transcendence characterizes Divine perfection, but only the tran- 
scendence of any particular view, person, or historical moment, 
never the transcendence of reason as incapable of comprehending 
the dialectics of the total process. Surely the Divine is also perfectly 
immanent in the world, since its self-consciousness and thus its per- 
fection can only be achieved through individual consciousness and 


the unfolding of historical process. Simplicity, however, must be 
excluded by Hegel as a classical characteristic of perfection, since 
process requires inclusiveness and the most comprehensive becomes, 
as it does for Spinoza, the most real. The union of the most abstract 
with the greatest (even if conflicting) concrete detail is now the 
essence of perfection. However, although this certainly requires dis- 
tinction within the Divine nature, division (as in all classical treat- 
ment) is ruled out, due to the power and the absolute control which 
the Divine exercises over its own development. 

Interestingly enough, both positive and negative attribution be- 
come equally necessary for such a view, whereas most classical 
theories used either positive attribution or negative predication only 
as a means to, or in place of, a finally positive characterization. And 
the world must have come into being, i.e., be subject to creation and 
not be eternal, since the eternality of any framework without de- 
velopment is inconceivable. Perhaps Hegel, not Darwin, is really 
responsible for the grip which evolutionary thought has upon the 
contemporary mind. Furthermore, the Divine life involves the 
actualization of entities not all compossible, since from such opposi- 
tion comes the very power of its actualization. What is good, there- 
fore, must be plural, and the conflict of standards of value is, 
consequently, both ultimate and necessary for perfection. 

When it comes to language, it is obvious that Hegel sides with 
univocation (as contrasted with equivocation or the method of 
analogy). Since the Divine life is essentially so like the human per- 
sonality, human terms and concepts will obviously be highly ap- 
propriate. Since it is through self-consciousness that God becomes 
known, there will be no inappropriateness in the use of essentially 
psychological categories to characterize Divinity. The attributes of 
personality are not excluded from perfection as incompatible but 
are taken as the very key to its understanding. The same essential 
process which governs our individual consciousness, opposition, con- 
flict, and even destruction, is the same process (expanded to include 
nature, logic, and science) through which God's perfection becomes 
actualized, i.e., comes to full self-consciousness. 


Hegel knew, of course, that prosaic and sordid human history 
did not express the Divine life, and he saw this with a clarity which 
those influenced by him have often forgotten. Insight comes only 
from history, idealized (i.e., philosophically transformed) cultural 
and human self-consciousness. It is not really from cultural and 
historical facts that enlightenment flows, but rather from ideal 
facts reconstructed by philosophical method. The self must take its 
cultural and historical facts and transfigure them under reason's 
guidance in order to find significance in them. Factual, historical, 
and statistical inquiry into cultural phenomena will neither give in- 
sights into the Divine life nor yield any basis for certainty. Objective 
and factual history are as such uninteresting. But as reason begins 
the ideal reconstruction and interpretation, then, through reason's 
guided development, the Divinely perfect process will become visible 
as realized. 










In a contemporary constructive effort, how shall we employ his- 
torical materials and earlier theories? Is it possible to extract a 
crucial point from a complicated setting and then employ it in 
present discussion? What happens to a doctrine when it is lifted 
out of its native setting and used for analytical and constructive pur- 
poses? These are the questions which an historical-critical-speculative 
and constructive attempt must face. 

What, let us ask, are our alternatives? If we must first complete a 
total historical source inquiry and reconstruction, that task will be 
impossible for any one man to accomplish ( and perhaps impossible 
in theory) in order to go on to systematic work. Yet if we abandon 
historical material altogether, we risk cutting ourselves adrift, 
making ourselves more vulnerable to current whims. And more im- 
portant, we cannot learn from, or train ourselves by, previous specu- 
lative thought unless we pick it up and use it. Metaphysics and 
theology have no training ground, no pre-established standards 
other than those to be found in the body of the writings of the great 
speculative thinkers. We must use historical sources for contempo- 
rary construction or starve for lack of theoretical food. 

Furthermore, a close look at classical writers reveals an instructive 
fact: none of those men were by our exacting standards historical 
scholars, and yet all of them seemed to orient their own writing by 
constant reference to their predecessors. Whether overtly or not, 



most classical writers seem to be using and speaking to a variety of 
their speculative forebearers. It is interesting to note how many in 
the past and in the present (e.g., Plato, Aquinas, Spinoza, and 
Heidegger) claim to have received their orienting direction by 
reaching back and drawing on some past work. Contemporary the- 
ologians and metaphysicians must assert their right to the use of 
every historical source. 

Even at the risk of generality, we must learn to use theories, in 
addition to knowing how to analyze their detail. These two enter- 
prises, of course, should be kept distinct, and the employment of a 
theory should never be confused with a scholarly inquiry into its 
context. But both are needed for our speculative health. If we lack 
scholarship, we may distort or fundamentally misunderstand trans- 
lated theories; if we do not make use of them in constructive at* 
tempts, then our own speculative powers grow weak from disuse or 
may be disoriented from their tradition. Neither must be lost or 
allowed to engage in damaging warfare with the other. 

In the first part of this essay, a brief historical summary was at- 
tempted. It necessitated changing the theories in exact detail but, it 
is hoped, not in essence. In Part II a more difficult transition occurs, 
one which moves from historical theory toward a reconstructed 
solution. Admittedly it is sometimes hard to tell when the reference 
passes from someone else's theory to the author's own statement. 
Such, for instance, is the case in much of Aristotle's writing, interest- 
ingly enough particularly in his metaphysical writings. Metaphysics 
and theology seem to grow immediately out of previous theories, 
although not necessarily following any exact historical pattern. 

When has a previous theory been left behind and a distinctively 
new theory emerged, capable of sustaining itself under analysis and 
expansion? That is the critical question which must be applied to 
every contemporary reworking of a classical issue. On the surface, 
the presence of historical fragments may seem confusing; actually it 
may be a more honest confession of source. As ever, the novel 
emerges from the familiar when the long familiar is reworked in 
new lights. 


Chapters VI and VII evidence this process more clearly. The 
ordering and the priority given to concepts is in itself another stand- 
ard measure of a man's view. Theories change as different concepts 
are raised from subordinate to central positions, and the theoretical 
result of this summary and reordering becomes evident in the last 
two chapters. Actually, the way in which any topic is approached, 
any material treated, is itself the most crucial fact about a theory or 
study. In that sense, the last two chapters simply bring to conscious- 
ness what the whole essay has unconsciously evidenced all along. 

Most metaphysicians would fail if they had to stand on their his- 
torical accuracy. And yet the life of a metaphysical or theological 
theory is so tenuous that it must attach itself to previous theories or 
risk oblivion. Like Plato's form of unity, metaphysics has no visible 
existence except in the body of writing which actually comprises it. 
Thus, the contemporary theoretician must use this accumulation 
and yet pass beyond mere commentary on it. 

What, we must also ask, could be in the mind of a metaphysician 
when he commits a speculative sentence to print? Are we safe in 
assuming that he had a single specific meaning which an exact 
analysis can uncover? Does he use words as others in his time do, or 
does his theoretical mind give each crucial term a unique task? 
These most fundamental questions cannot be answered here, but 
the answer given to them is crucial to the way in which previous 
theological and metaphysical theories are used. If the metaphysician 
always operates at the limit of his understanding, necessarily and for- 
ever in a boundary situation, then the words he uses never lead to an 
exact formulation in the mind of anyone other than himself. They 
only lead on to further speculation. Metaphysical and theological 
words, then, may not be entities in themselves. They simply yield in- 
sight and further theories, which in turn provide additional per- 

Speculative theories, whether concerning God or man, cannot be 
totally modern, since neither God nor man is. Nor can such theories 
stand alone or support themselves for longer than their speaker lasts, 
unless they tie themselves into the body of preserved literature. Some 


recent theories have been too novel and thus too rootless; others 
have never passed beyond scholarly inquiry to recreative efforts. The 
possibility of being simultaneously historical and contemporary, that 
the second part of this essay attempts to explore. Success would mean 
the beginning of a self-supporting and yet novel theoretical structure. 





Perhaps in no other area of philosophy is cumulative progress 
more difficult to discern than in metaphysics. In some ways this is as 
it should be. Metaphysics seeks to delineate in words the basic struc- 
ture encompassing nature and man, but this structure is not itself 
subject to change, even if the terms in which it is described are. 
Ethical conduct, for instance, as philosophical data is much better 
characterized by evolution than is metaphysical structure. The 
metaphysicians influenced by Hegel are perhaps the exceptions to 
this rule; for them all phenomena are somehow metaphysically im- 
portant. Thus we have recently been passing through an era of 
metaphysical novelty in terms, in concepts (e.g., Whitehead), and 
in novelty of viewpoint. Nevertheless, in historical perspective the 
"lexicon" found in Aristotle's Metaphysics still serves very well as a 
basic definition of both metaphysics and the terms important to it. 



In spite of this relative stability, a metaphysician or theologian in 
our day is in a position to compare and contrast the virtues and 
vices, the advantages and the disadvantages, of historical meta- 
physical views, and to do so with a completeness and an accuracy 
perhaps hitherto unparalleled. A study of the Middle Ages leaves 
one impressed with the fruitfulness of that time, and this stands in 
contrast to the scarcity of the original metaphysical writings which 
were available for use in that age. The Enlightenment was by nature 
uninterested in the thought of preceding eras and suffered for its 
provincialism, by a lack of perspective on its own views. The nine- 
teenth century was profoundly interested in historical material, but 
it had a peculiar way of bending every view to make it fit into its 
prearranged place in a nineteenth-century architechtonic. Philos- 
ophy, if not theology, having broken so radically with nineteenth- 
century schemes, is left with the advantage of having recovered the 
historical sources which we are now free to study on their own terms. 
One advantage in our possession of such a range of historical 
material, now freed from the transforming grasp of peculiarly 
nineteenth-century perspectives, can be seen in the concept of infinity 
as it relates to the question of the nature of Divine perfection. It is 
perfectly clear that Aristotle associates infinity with the indefinite 
and the indeterminate; and, as such, it is outside the grasp of knowl- 
edge. For him form means limitation and completion. The infinite 
or the unlimited stands opposed to both and is thus opposed to per- 
fection, which requires limitation and completion. Only the poten- 
tial infinite is allowed by Aristotle, but this can never be actualized, 
and actuality is the very hallmark of perfection. Plato does not make 
the unlimited a central concept, but he does make use of it at least 
in the Philebus in asserting that all things (perhaps even the Forms 
themselves) arise as a combination of the limited with the un- 
limited. From even this brief history the problem is clear: If infinity 
is to be compatible with perfection, then a mode of knowledge 
(either in God or in men) must be found which is capable of grasp- 
ing it in totality. For this to be possible, a way must be found to 
reconcile infinity with form, or else to provide a mode of knowledge 


which is not dependent upon a grasp of form. In any case, infinity 
must be made fully actual and purged of its association with the in- 
complete and the indeterminate. 

Aquinas represents just such a process of the purification of in- 
finity, for he conceives it so that it is made compatible with form, 
actualized in God, and characteristic of the primary mode of Divine 
knowledge. Infinity is not transcended, except perhaps, as we shall 
see later, by unity. Aquinas retains the classical stress upon form as 
the condition for knowledge but makes it compatible with infinity. 
Such infinity may make the Divine nature impossible for us to com- 
prehend, although not difficult to grasp, but the presence of form 
and the possession by God of an infinite mode of knowledge keep 
God's nature infinite without placing it beyond form or beyond all 
knowledge, although it is beyond man's natural mode of knowledge 
via form. 

In an historical review of the use of "infinity," one thing quickly 
becomes clear: the concept is never discussed or applied to God 
simply by itself. Always the question is, "An infinity of what?" Yet 
the question of infinity naturally arises in connection with the Divine 
nature, since the Divine can be Divine only by being qualitatively 
different from the natural order. This was not always so, as we have 
seen in classical Greek thought, but most often it has been true. 
Especially since the Christian era, the method has been to apply to 
God in an infinite mode whatever qualities or attributes He is said 
to share with limited beings (e.g., power). Of course what it is 
important to note is that not all theologians agree to use terms ap- 
plicable to human nature in their description of the Divine, particu- 
larly those who stress the Divine transcendence. Whoever does use 
terms to describe God's nature which also apply to the natural order, 
then, will find the application of the term in an infinite mode a 
natural tendency. 

Spinoza, and perhaps Plotinus and Hegel, are the exceptions to 
this rule since they also apply infinity to the natural order. In fact, 
one characteristic tendency of modern thought seems to be the 
common acceptance of infinity as being widely applicable and easily 


handled. Descartes and Leibniz have no trouble grasping infinity, 
and when this is the case it is not too hard to see infinite aspects as 
present also within the natural order. Perhaps such ease in the use 
of infinity accounts for the problem modern thought seems to have 
of keeping God distinct from the natural world. This application of 
infinity to the natural order is most obvious in Spinoza's writing. 
The natural realm certainly has finite aspects, but infinity also 
applies both to nature's modes and to its attributes. However, the 
attributes of our known natural world are limited to two (extension 
and thought), and this raises the question of an infinity in kind vs. 
an absolute infinity. 

This concern over the question of the possibility of an absolute 
infinity (i.e., an infinity of infinite kinds) is perhaps most character- 
istic of the modern temper. Aristotle considered the question of an 
actual infinite only in the category of quantity. Puzzled as he was 
about the necessity of admitting the infinite to be in some sense 
actual, he limited the question to one category and rejected even the 
consideration of the question of infinity as itself being infinite. Aris- 
totle's theory of knowledge (in which knowledge is dependent upon 
form and form is made the very principle of limitation) prevented 
such an expansive consideration of the infinite's mode of existence. 
Modern rationalism, which considers it natural and normal to deal 
with infinites, raises the perfection which it applies to God above 
that of infinity in kind to that of the absolutely infinite. 

Even if the natural world and the men in it can be said to possess 
aspects or kinds of infinity, or to be able to grasp them in knowledge, 
still the absolutely infinite characterizes God alone and is grasped by 
Him alone. From now on it is not simple infinity, but the kind of 
infinity, which distinguishes man from God. Yet a Divine nature 
characterized by such an expanded form of infinity does not trans- 
cent knowledge, since each of the infinite attributes is in itself know- 
able. The unity of such a nature becomes a kind of unity that is not 
opposed to distinction but instead comprehends every possible 
variety. Thus it is a unity due to the fact that nothing is outside its 
nature, rather than through any lack of internal distinctions. Reason, 


in expanding its grasp to an infinity of infinite kinds, has created a 
new kind of unity by which it is able to keep reason, which requires 
unity for its operation, ultimately applicable to every aspect of 

Excluding for the moment, then, those who make infinity as a 
Divine perfection a matter of an absolute infinity (primarily Spinoza 
and Hegel) vs. an infinity of kind, the issue of infinity as a Divine 
perfection really is the application of infinity to whatever primary 
qualities are assigned to God (e.g., power, will, love) as a way of 
contrasting them with the limited extent of the similar quality in 
man. What is commonly misunderstood, however, is that this does 
not at all mean that the quality applies absolutely without restric- 
tions (the counterpart of the concept of an absolute infinity of 
kinds) . It does mean, for example, that in the application of power 
God has no external or internal limitations due to deficiencies in His 
nature. One attribute of the Divine nature may limit another, but 
each attribute in its own right is infinite. There are always the tradi- 
tional considerations of "what God cannot do," but these do not, as 
they do in man, spring originally from a state of inherent weakness. 

The contrast of God as alone properly infinite becomes more 
striking in a view which sees the universe, and thus time and motion, 
as having had a definite beginning, and perhaps also a definite end. 
For here everything in the natural order is necessarily limited by the 
finite extent of time, and also by the limited life of the natural order 
and of everything within it. Oddly enough, this modern perspective 
has found itself more at home with actual infinities, at least in 
thought, whereas the classical view of the eternality of the world 
had a natural framework of infinity in extent of time but rejected it 
as a perfection. Of course, this reversal of an imperfection so that it 
becomes a perfection is understandable enough, since an eternal 
world could never become actual, whereas the modern conception 
of a beginning and an end to time and process fits perfectly into the 
classical concept of completion and actuality. 

The classical rejection of the unlimited, and the consequent stress 
upon limitation as the vehicle of perfection, can hardly be over- 


stressed, Even Plato, who uses the unlimited and who nowhere rejects 
it as strongly as Aristotle does, is unequivocal in seeing limita- 
tion as the source of beauty, harmony, and thus of perfection. Later 
theologians meet this Platonic conservatism by asserting infinity of 
extent but preserving form as a mode of limitation, thus reconciling 
infinity with the classical notions of beauty and harmony as being 
dependent upon some limitation. What the new stress upon the 
actuality of infinity does is to remove some limitations but not all. 
The doctrine of an absolute infinity vs. an infinity of one kind, carries 
the metamorphosis of classical concepts a step further, but it is 
really in the contrast and yet association of infinity with unity 
that the radical break is made. Plato only hints at the transcendence 
of being by the Good; but Plotinus, and all who treat unity as a 
dominating concept in ontology, completes this revolution. 

As was pointed out in discussing Plotinus and Hegel, although 
Plotinus "begins" systematically with the soul, he does so only in 
order to establish it as a mid-point, with greater diversity to be found 
in the body and in physical nature. The soul itself points to its 
contacts with realms characterized by an even greater unity. Such a 
hierarchical arrangement of modes of being according to degrees of 
unity is bound to end by transcending both being and thought in the 
One, as the source of both unity and the degrees of it present within 
being. Whenever the scheme of things is so ordered (infinity neces- 
sarily involving expansiveness), form and multiplicity are bound to 
fall and to be no longer characteristic of perfection at its ultimate. 

Metaphysicians learned to deal with infinity, to rid it of its nega- 
tive aspects, and, through infinity's association with form, to make 
is compatible with knowledge in its highest mode (though not 
with ordinary knowledge until the modern period). But unity as a 
guiding concept requires that the transcendence of form not be 
characteristic of the primal level, and thus infinity either again be- 
comes disassociated from form and thus destructive to knowledge or 
is left behind with form on a secondary level of the hierarchy. The 
finite is to be contrasted with the infinite, but unity demands that 
such contrasts be transcended until the One becomes beyond either 


the finite or the infinite as the undivided source of both. Naturally 
thought fails here, for it is dependent upon distinctions and upon 
forms, and both of these are left behind in a definition of such a level 
of perfection. 

Here the objections of Aristotle reappear, for it becomes obvious 
that scientific knowledge of such a source of being is impossible. The 
suggestion is fairly clear that even the ordinary "laws of thought" 
are suspended. Nothing in the One holds elements apart so that they 
may be grasped by the distinctions of thought. This is the meaning 
of Plotinus' description of the One as the source of all things without 
being itself any one thing. The One is the source of all beings but 
nothing is found in distinction from anything else, and hence no 
predication at all is possible. Distinctions, even the distinction of 
thought vs. its object, appear at a level lower than that which is fully 
perfect, i.e., fully one. It is not the chaos of Plato's receptacle, but it 
is indefiniteness of a kind. Here rationalism is lost, since the ultimate 
source of being, i.e., that which explains being, in its supreme unity 
must transcend that alone upon which reason can operate : distinc- 
tions and the diversity of definite objects. 

One interesting point to note in considering the concepts of unity 
and infinity and their various applications to Divine perfection is 
that they form at least one basis for discussing the problem of evil. 
For instance, if, following the neo-Platonists, we use unity as the 
defining characteristic of perfection, then evil comes to be associated 
with multiplicity or the degree of distance from the Primal One. 
Such a view makes evil a matter of fact, a necessary consequence of 
the fullness of a creation that reaches to the farthest distance. This 
should cause us very little objection, nor is it a fault to be attributed 
to the source of being. Infinity, when associated with form, makes 
evil out to be lack of form (i.e., chaos) or the limitation implied in 
being finite. When, however, infinity is replaced by unity as the 
determining factor in perfection, then lack of particularity and dis- 
tinction characterize perfection, and evil is the separation associated 
with individualization. 

Even without completely analyzing evil in these terms, it is evident 


that the determination of perfection is at the same time the specifica- 
tion of the nature of evil. And since what constitutes perfection can 
vary, the same alternatives and flexibility characterize evil In this 
sense the source of perfection must always be at the same time the 
ontological, although not necessarily the immediate, source of evil. 
The difficulty is not that of making the Divine creative source also 
the source of evil, for a deviation and thus a fall from its full per- 
fection will always be necessitated in any creation. The problem is 
whether evil as such is contained within the Divine nature itself. It 
need not be, except as the Divine is the source of the created order 
and is the standard of perfection from which lesser beings of neces- 
sity deviate in varying degrees. In any case, the determination of 
Divine perfection must always be (by negation) at the same time 
the determination of the standard of evil. 

Perhaps the most interesting argument for the necessity of infinity 
as primary in Divine perfection develops from the increasing atten- 
tion given in modern thought to the variety of possible worlds as 
they are contrasted with our actualized natural order. This approach 
via the possibles become almost the distinctive characteristic of the 
modern metaphysician. Some hint of an order of possibles can be 
found in the concept of the "unlimited 33 in pre-Socratic thought, but 
this is almost always placed in contrast with what is perfect. The 
increasing positive attention which comes to be given to infinity as 
a possible perfection begins to bring with it increased attention to 
possible orders of nature. In classical thought there is little sug- 
gestion of any possible ontological framework other than our own. 
Medieval theologians (e.g., Aquinas) , however, in finding it difficult 
to limit God's infinite thought to our order begin to postulate God's 
grasp in thought of a range of uncreated orders. 

It is true that it was some time before it was possible to suggest 
any contingency (and thus freedom) in God's action in choosing 
from among the possible orders in His act of creation. The domi- 
nance of "actuality" in perfection (to be discussed below) acted as 
a restraining factor. But it is the increasing expansion of infinity 


(e.g. toward absolute infinity) that has supplied the greatest im- 
petus toward giving serious consideration to "possibility" as a central 
concept for perfection. The revolution is completed when possibility 
finally comes to be a primary concept. Then all consideration begins 
(systematically speaking) by giving attention to the unlimited scope 
of possibility. This is particularly true when, as in Ockham, it is 
defined solely by the limit of self-contradiction. The radical changes 
which this requires in the concept of Divine perfection have their 
origin in the expansiveness introduced by the acceptance of infinity 
as primary. 

Let us now take the terms "infinity" and "unity" and attempt a 
long range historical recapitulation of their metaphysical employ- 
ment in the concept of Divine perfection. Infinity came to be a 
quality of perfection when it was dissociated from chaos and in- 
determinacy, and this was accomplished by making it compatible 
with form and, thus, with at least one mode of knowledge. Infinity 
then was subject to further expansion into an absolute infinity, an 
infinity of infinite kinds rather than just one mode of infinity. When 
this happens the natural world almost always comes to be viewed as 
merely one aspect of the Divine nature, so all-inclusive is such a 
concept of infinity. Even here knowledge is not necessarily tran- 
scended, since an infinite mode of knowledge is developed to parallel 
the ontological expansion. However, sometimes both the infinite and 
the finite are transcended in their opposition by placing what is 
Divinely perfect beyond both as the source of both. However, such a 
transcendence of infinity as applicable directly to Divine perfection 
usually only happens when unity comes to be the determining con- 

An absolute infinity has a kind of unity implied in its extent, such 
that nothing is conceivable beyond it. But in serious ontologies 
based upon unity as a primary concept such extreme multiplicity 
cannot be either ultimate or ultimately perfect. However, when unity 
receives such stress, then the earlier view of infinity tends to return, 
such that the First Principle is characterized by a multiplicity which 


Is without definite structure or limit. As recognized classically, this 
raises what is fully perfect above the rational modes of knowing 
that are dependent upon form and distinction. An early rationalism 
rejected infinity on the grounds of its unknowability, but the assim- 
ilation of infinity with form eliminated this objection. For all ontolo- 
gies which stress unity as primary in perfection, knowledge becomes 
directly applicable only at a secondary level. Perfection itself, when 
dominated by the concept of unity, is surrounded by a cloud of un- 

Infinities become commonplace in the late Middle Ages, and 
especially for the seventeenth-century rationalists. However, under 
the critical restraint of Kant, infinity once again was excluded as be- 
ing disruptive of knowledge. Form and limitation again dominate, 
although this applies primarily to the phenomenal world. In Kant's 
noumenal realm hints of infinity return in the feeling of the sublime. 
What the understanding cannot know directly, aesthetic feeling may 
possibly experience indirectly. However, with Hegel infinity once 
again reigns supreme, while unity and its consequent unknowability 
recede into the background. The dialectical process, the develop- 
ment through opposition, the expression of Spirit in the unfolding 
of nature and history all these combine to bring the Divine close 
to temporal multiplicity and to make it necessary for any God to be 
expansive to the ultimate degree in order to encompass all of this. 

What, then, shall we do with "unity" and "infinity" in construct- 
ing a concept of Divine perfection? In a scheme in which possibles 
are given unlimited extent, a Divine nature must be absolutely in- 
finite in intellect in order actually to comprehend this vast range, 
and if infinite in intellect then infinity must also apply to any nature 
possessing an intellect of this scope. Such being the case, unity can 
apply to Divine perfection not as its primary characteristic but as a 
consequence of the completely inclusive nature of the possibles when 
they are so liberally conceived. Knowledge would not be so much 
transcended by such an infinity, but only restricted in its grasp, i.e., 
unable to hold all such diverse possible individual entities simul- 
taneously in attention. Since such a realm of possible entities, and 


the intellect infinitely applicable to them, would form only a part 
of the Divine nature, such a God would transcend even absolute in- 
finity (and thus knowledge) by possessing a nature of which an 
absolute infinity of possibles would be only one aspect. 




As should be clear from the previous discussion, the issue of 
form vs. transcendence is really dependent upon a prior consider- 
ation. For instance, if, as for Aristotle, what is perfect must be 
(at least in principle) fully knowable, then form will always repre- 
sent perfection. If infinity violates form, as it does in Aristotle's early 
formulation, then infinity must be excluded as a Divine perfection, 
whether or not it is allowed existence in some other manner. When 
the conception of infinity can be transformed to be made compatible 
with form by being made fully actual, then it can be accepted as a 
characteristic of perfection. On the other hand, whenever unity is a 
key ontological concept, then form will come to represent distinction 
and must be transcended. In this case discursive knowledge is also 
transcended, so that knowability and form no longer represent per- 
fection. Now transcendence of the bonds of being, of form and 



infinity, is more in keeping with perfection than is rational grasp. 
Such perfection may still be knowable, but only by means of a more 
immediate vision than rational discourse and only after a difficult 
process designed to break the bonds which form imposes. 

Intelligibility, which means primarily amenability to form, is 
Aristotle's guiding concept, and this is never totally reversed where 
Divine perfection is concerned. As different conceptions of intelli- 
gibility are framed, Aristotle's more strict requirements are aban- 
doned. It is never asserted that God is unintelligible, although His 
transcendence of form, distinction, and ordinary logical grasp will 
often make the Divine nature appear unknowable simply by con- 
trast. Whenever Aristotle's restrictions of completion, definiteness, 
and limit are set aside for Divinity, then knowledge is bound to be- 
come more difficult and probably will require an indirect approach. 
Although "knowledge" will become a different kind of thing from 
plain discourse about the ordinary levels of being, it is never set aside 
completely. Standards of intelligibility vary; and, where transcend- 
ence of the limits of being is involved, these become debatable. 
Differences about the knowability of a perfect Being represent not an 
argument of knowability vs. unknowability but basic disagreement 
over ontological structure and the nature of its ultimate source. 

Exemption from motion is perhaps the most debatable characteris- 
tic of perfection which both Plato and Aristotle insist upon. Form 
again represents completion and thus lack of motion, but this is no 
difficulty for Plato and Aristotle since they are able to trace motion 
to ontological sources other than what is perfect. When, however, 
there is to be only one first principle in ontology then no one can 
agree completely with the classical exclusion of motion from perfec- 
tion. All metaphysical thought after Plotinus accounts for being by 
means of a single first principle and accepts motion into Divinity in 
some sense; the question is, in what sense. Motion for Aristotle 
meant change and incompleteness. Just as infinity was altered to 
transform it from imperfection to perfection, so now motion is 
altered in concept so that Divinity itself may be the source of motion 
but still be itself unchanging and complete in nature. Motion in 


Divinity gives life and power to all created by it. Motion in creatures 
represents life and power also, but it is imperfect here in its involve- 
ment with incompleteness and the possibility of a radical change in 

When we consider Plato's use of beauty as evidence for, or as a 
reflection of > the presence of perfection, then Plato's use of form and 
motionlessness in defining perfection is somewhat altered. Beauty 
for Plato is usually connected with the presence of form, but form 
itself is subject to some transcendence as it is not for Aristotle. Al- 
though it transcends the natural world, form does not transcend the 
structure of either being or reason, since it is itself the very embodi- 
ment of these two characteristics. However, Plato's concept of the 
Good has aspects which transcend both being and reason, and the 
Good is surely associated with the source of beauty. Thus, in Plato- 
nism is to be found a basis for the development of a concept of Divine 
perfection which transcends being, although it is probable that for 
Plato the Good is simply a higher form and does not transcend form 
altogether. Beauty, whenever it becomes an avenue to, or is used 
as evidence for, the nature of Divine perfection, almost always in- 
volves a transcendence of at least the ordinary structures of knowing. 
Beauty is more akin to what is immediately grasped than that which 
requires discourse and distinction, so it is not surprising that Plotinus' 
second term for the One is often the Good. 

An important point to note here in connection with transcend- 
ence and perfection is that the Greek and Hellenistic conceptions 
usually apply the same concept of perfection to both gods and men, 
although the Divine always embodies perfection more fully. As ex- 
treme transcendence comes to characterize perfection, Divine per- 
fection tends to develop special characteristics and human nature 
and the natural order have opposite, or at least quite different, char- 
acteristics (e.g., infinite vs. finite). Whatever transcendent aspects 
can be found in Plato and Plotinus, their First Principles each share 
their characteristics with men. Later on, God comes to have a nature 
and a life quite His own; His perfection now makes Him unique. 
This involves transcendence of a more drastic kind and, since natural 


categories no longer fit, problems of knowledge become more serious 
to handle. Perfection, which once gods and men shared however 
unequally, comes to be the very quality which separates Divinity 
from man. 

It is the transcendence of form, as in Dionysius and Plotinus, 
which makes the use of language so difficult and the grasp of knowl- 
edge so insecure. Whenever perfection means the transcendence of 
the structure of being, our language (which is derived from being's 
qualities) becomes faulty and at times misleading. When unity's de- 
mands are so strong that the law of identity is suspended whenever 
the One is characterized, our language, being dependent upon struc- 
ture and distinctions, is robbed of its power to describe. As long as 
form is preserved, even if it is the Platonic form which transcends 
nature, language has an applicability. Whenever perfection requires 
the transcendence of form, as it does for Plotinus, Dionysius, and the 
mystics, language and its usefulness become a serious and primary 
problem. Concepts may still lead us to perfection, but now they can 
never describe its nature, except by negation and indirection. Those 
who preserve form as ultimately characteristic of Divine perfection, 
suffer less over language and its inadequacies, since rational dis- 
course remains applicable here without fear of distortion. 

Nevertheless, the primary asset of such extreme transcendence of 
form is that it places Divinity beyond any question of dependence 
upon any being other than itself. Such transcendence is usually ar- 
rived at through the attempt to rid God of His dependence upon the 
structure of being, which is necessary whenever there is a similarity 
in nature between God and being in general. If both God and nature 
are apprehended by the use of the same concepts, then there is 
always the danger that Divinity will become subjected to those 
structures and thus be as dependent upon them as are men. In this 
way the transcendence of form is dependent upon, the concept of 
self-sufficiency (see below), just as, in another respect, form and 
transcendence are determined by the considerations of infinity and 
unity. Infinity need not now cause Divine perfection to transcend 
form, but unity as a primary attribute usually does. Similarly, the 


desire to protect the Divine self -sufficiency often requires that form 
and the structures of being both be passed beyond. 

Except within the mystical tradition, metaphysics and theology 
have hardly, since the time of Plotinus and Dionysius, known a view 
which stresses the ultimate transcendence of form and of all ordinary 
modes of knowledge. Augustine and Anselm are aware of aspects of 
transcendence, but Divine perfection seems to be fully within the 
limits of form and thus to pose no insuperable problems of knowl- 
edge. Already Divine perfection is being moved out into categories 
which will make it distinct in kind from the characteristics which 
describe man, but the rational bonds which hold man and God to- 
gether are, although loosened, never broken. Aquinas assimilates 
infinity to form, and Ockham makes our knowledge of God less 
direct and less subject to definitive formulation, but all that Ockham 
speaks about is fully within the framework required for rational dis- 

Spinoza and Hegel, of course, represent the extreme optimism of 
reason. The concept of the Divine nature is infinitely expanded by 
them, but so also is man's rational grasp. These two natures may be 
somewhat different, but both God and man reason essentially alike 
if man's reason is properly trained. Man is as capable of simul- 
taneous grasp as is God, and there is nothing beyond form and no 
form to which reason does not extend. Kant's metaphysical skepti- 
cism limits known form to the form of man's understanding, but at 
the same time every aspect of the phenomenal world is within this 
grasp. It is possible that God Himself might transcend form on 
Kant's view, but it is not possible for reason to know this directly 
with any assurance. With Hegel all restrictions are removed from 
reason. In a classical view, reason derived knowledge from only a 
limited group of objects; for Hegel reason must now encompass an 
infinite variety of historical and metaphysical data and is considered 
ideally suited to this arduous task. 

Form, then, is transcended in Hegelian conceptions of Divine per- 
fection in the sense that form is not sufficient for perfection but must 
be combined with passion, with the material process of the world 


and all of its individual aspects. Just as unity transcends form in 
moving perfection above the structures of being, so Hegel transcends 
form by moving downward to include an infinite variety of material 
and historical phenomena. However, form still remains in all cases 
central to the doctrine of perfection. In some theories it is the very 
epitome of perfection, both Divine and human. In others it points 
the way upward beyond its own necessarily distinct existence toward 
an even higher level. For still others, form must be opposed to the 
historical and material particularity of the world process and perfec- 
tion attained only in the dialectical process expressed and con- 
summated by this opposition. 

Just as form always plays a central, if somewhat varying, role in 
any concept of Divine perfection, so also is there always some degree 
of transcendence present. Even if the mode of perfection is the same 
for men and gods, the Divine still transcends the natural realm by 
embodying the characteristics of perfection more fully. When the 
preservation of self-sufficiency in Divinity demands that it be placed 
beyond the necessarily multiple framework of being, extreme tran- 
scendence is introduced, with all its consequent problems of the 
adequacy of language and the development of a unique mode of 
knowing. When Divinity can only be found in the total process, as 
with either Spinoza or Hegel, the transcendence of every particular 
aspect of nature is implied, even though the perfection of the Divine 
life does not transcend a reason of infinitely subtle power and range. 





The thought of Divine perfection often turns the mind to the 
concept of "actuality." Nothing could be clearer in Aristotle than 
his characterization of perfection primarily in terms of actuality. 
That which is fully actual is form, free from matter, motion, and 
change. These latter three characteristics are excluded from perfec- 
tion not so much on their own grounds as on the ground that each 
implies a lack of actuality. Obviously, it is primarily actuality that is 
important to perfection. Matter, motion, and change may be in- 
cluded in Divinity if it can be shown that they do not damage the 
Divine actuality, as Aristotle held they would. Spinoza made matter 
compatible with perfection by making it fully amenable to an infinite 
reason. Aristotle's reason was more limited and could not assimilate 
matter without damage to its ability to achieve completion. 

Behind actuality (which after Aristotle meant excluding matter, 



motion, and change until someone could free them from the charge 
of subversion) lies a concept even more important to perfection. I.e., 
self-sufficiency. For actuality is crucial only because it indicates a lack 
of dependence upon anything outside of itself; anything not fully 
actual runs the risk of standing in need of something other than 
itself to complete its nature. Thus, as the concept of perfection de- 
veloped, even full actuality could be taken away from perfection and 
the theory might still fit the classical pattern, if only a way could be 
found to protect the complete self-sufficiency of the Divine. What is 
fully actual is surely self-sufficient. What is not fully actual, or what 
involves matter, motion, or change, may be self-sufficient; but the 
risk and the burden of proof fall upon the proposer of the innova- 

Speaking of the unmoved mover, Aristotle asserts contemplation 
to be the most self-sufficient activity (Metaphysics, 1074 b 34 and 
Nich. Ethics, 1 178 b 21 ) . This indicates the governing power which 
self-sufficiency as a concept has. Contemplation may be ascribed to 
Aristotle's principle of perfection because contemplation is the best 
evidence that can be given of self-sufficiency. It is also clear that 
activity is not, as many believe, incompatible in this case with per- 
fection, although it may be in a theory that stresses the dominance of 
unity. What is fully perfect may act, but its action must be the kind 
that testifies to its self-sufficiency, whereas our imperfect motions 
testify so clearly to our dependent status. Not all motion is in- 
compatible with perfection for Aristotle, but it must be a motion of 
only a certain type, i.e., motion which seeks nothing outside of its 
own nature. 

Certain kinds of motion and activity are compatible with perfec- 
tion, and even the Aristotelian framework could be modified to 
allow matter, motion, and change as long as self-sufficiency could 
be maintained. All patterns of perfection, however, are not this 
generous. Plotinus forces the One to transcend all such attribution, 
since the complete transcendence of normal categories is itself per- 
haps the best way to insure the Divine self-sufficiency. If it tran- 
scends all particular attribution, then it cannot be made dependent 


upon them. This is the reason why so many later theologies make the 
fundamental split in all things to be: that-which-is-the-cause-of-itself 
vs. that-which-has-its-cause-in-another. The outcome of this is to 
draw a radical contrast between Divinity, dependent for its existence 
upon nothing outside of itself, and all of being and its particular 
beings, whose primary characteristic is their need for other beings 
or for other parts of the structure of being. 

Here is the red unity of the whole theological and metaphysical 
tradition: what distinguishes Divinity is its perfection, and funda- 
mentally this means its self-sufficiency, its dependence upon nothing 
other than itself for its own existence and activity. Classically this 
has been conceived in terms of actuality, and usually full actuality, 
but this can be and has been altered when other ways are found to 
preserve the Divine self-sufficiency, whether such a nature volun- 
tarily involves itself with other beings or not. If infinity did not 
threaten the unmoved mover's self-sufficiency, it could be ascribed 
to it as an attribute. But as Aristotle thought of infinity, it meant the 
denial of actuality and thus could not even be considered as an at- 
tribute of what was perfect. 

When Spinoza literally identifies reality and perfection, yet an- 
other solution becomes possible. All of matter, motion, and change 
are now included within Divine perfection, but absolute infinity is 
also here, so that the intellect is able to grasp everything qua actual- 
ized. For Aristotle and Plato matter, motion, and change all stood 
as an impediment to knowledge and thus could not be included in 
perfection because they introduced obscurities. With a more power- 
ful theory of knowledge, one which is able to encompass even an 
absolute infinity, perfection may include all of reality, now that it 
can be adequately understood. Such understanding for Spinoza ban- 
ishes contingency, so that actuality is still a hallmark of perfection 
when all of reality is viewed properly. Lack of actuality indicates 
only a lack of improved understanding. All aspects of reality are 
included in Divine perfection, but only when they are grasped by 
an understanding strengthened to the point of grasping absolute 
infinity. All aspects of reality appear, but they appear as actualized. 


A more difficult problem develops with the beginning of a stress 
upon possible and unrealized entities within the Divine understand- 
ing. When Aquinas introduces never-to-be-actualized-worlds into 
God's intellect, actuality as a necessary characteristic of perfection 
takes on an altered meaning. God is no longer fully actual in the 
sense that every possible concept will eventually come to have exist- 
ence in concrete reality. He can remain fully actual in nature quite 
easily, even if the unrealized possibles in themselves remain only 
possible, if His actualization of them in any other way is not really 
possible. This is the solution which Leibniz and Thomas choose, 
although both Spinoza and Hegel deny the unrealized actuality of 
any possible entity, making God and the natural world quite close 
in nature. Whenever unrealized possibles appear, actuality as a per- 
fection can be preserved, but it can never be the simple actuality of 
the Aristotelian scheme. 

The issue, of course, hinges on the presence (or lack of it) of 
contradiction within the nature of the possibles as individual enti- 
ties. If, as Leibniz thought, all are not compossible, then they cannot 
all be actualized as Spinoza asserted. Since Hegel's scheme re- 
quires clash and opposition for its very development, the actualiza- 
tion of incompatible possibles is more easily accomplished within such 
a dialectical framework. However, if we begin with the very gener- 
ous definition of "possible" which Ockham gives (i.e., any conceiv- 
able entity is a possible if its essential definition involves no internal 
self-contradiction), then the realm of possible individual entities is 
so indefinitely multiplied that not even Hegel's gigantic process can 
accommodate them all. Full actuality cannot easily be attributed to 
a Divinity whose intellect encompasses such diversity, and the main- 
tenance of some form of actuality, and also of the perfection of 
self-sufficiency, now depends upon the adequacy of the account we 
give of God's mode of choice for actualization from among these 
ultimately incompatible possible entities. 

When possible individuals are so liberally expanded that the con- 
crete world obviously could not accommodate them all, then the 
Qf Argument" is also somewhat changed. All arguments be- 


come merely possible, and what is true with certainty can only mean 
what must be the case even if our particular world should not exist. 
All other truths and all other arguments are contingent, containing 
at best a degree of probability, which is derived in turn from the 
degree of probability possessed by the possible entities to which the 
argument refers. Here actuality as a Divine perfection can only 
mean the ability of the Divine to accomplish the actualization of 
one basic structure of being, which He constitutes from among the 
possible individual entities. Self-sufficiency can only mean God's 
ability to contain all of the absolutely infinite possibles within the 
Divine nature and to actualize a living and a self-sustaining natural 
order from among this vast range, giving it independence from 
Divinity but subject to His ultimate control. 

During the entire history of theology, even when actuality has 
been variously conceived, self-sufficiency has always been main- 
tained as central to the very nature of Divinity's perfection and as 
that which distinguishes it from all else. In this respect much non- 
sense has been written about the Platonic Forms as a model of per- 
fection. They do represent one type of perfection for Plato, but Plato 
has no single first principle. Even a cursory reading of the Phaedrus 
will show the kind of perfection which "soul" represents in Platonic 
thought. As the cause of its own motion, the soul exhibits a mode of 
perfection which becomes increasingly important for Plato and 
which becomes central for the neo-Platonists. Both Plato and Aris- 
totle distinguish various types of motion, and by no means do all types 
represent defect. Interestingly enough, it is easier to see the rational 
motion of soul as perfect within Platonism than it is to view such 
motion as perfect in Aristotle, although probably it is to be found 
in the circular or rotary motion of some of the heavenly spheres. 

It is not so much a negative attitude toward motion as it is a posi- 
tive attitude toward actuality which guides Aristotle, so that if the 
motion were of a kind that is compatible with actuality it could be 
acceptable. Motion often is an evidence of imperfection in the ob- 
ject, indicating a lack or a deficiency, and such motion must be 
rejected as representing an imperfect state. For Plato self-sufficiency 


is more important than actuality, so that the activity of soul (or at 
least its ideal rational activity) is more easily acceptable as perfect, 
since as found an ideal model it is not inconsistent with self- 
sufficiency. The difficulty comes with later Platonism, committed to 
a single First Principle, since it must find a way to combine in one 
source the perfection represented by motionless form with that 
represented by the actuality of a rational and self-sustaining soul. 

All serious theologians have allowed at least some motion to be 
compatible with perfection, although the type of motion is highly 
restricted by some and made more inclusive by others, e.g., Aristotle 
and Aquinas vs. Spinoza and Hegel. Anyone who constructs an on- 
tology around a single First Principle must make it as least the 
source of motion, even if God does not actually exhibit certain kinds 
of motion Himself. If the universe is eternal, as it is for Plotinus, then 
the problem is easier, for there need be no beginning creative activity. 
Constant and eternal emanation of the lower orders from the higher 
can present motion as continually produced by the One without 
making the One itself contain internal motion. However, if once 
there was nothing and creative activity brought time into existence, 
some activity has to be predicated of the source of this present 
structure of being. 

Whatever the type of motion and whatever the intimacy of its 
presence in an ontological First Principle, this involves no problem 
as long as the Divine self-sufficiency is maintained. Not such unani- 
mous agreement can be found concerning full actuality. To some it 
seems necessary, but for these metaphysicians the First Principle is 
seldom the single principle ontologically responsible for creation 
(e.g., Aristotle. ) If modes of possibility are to be found in God, as the 
later medievalists find them, then no harm comes to perfection as 
long as this is not such as to damage the Divine self-sufficiency. The 
alternative here, if self-sufficiency is destroyed, is to return to ulti- 
mately plural first principles, since only a self-sufficient principle can 
be the single and prior source of all being. If He is to create and to 
be responsible for creative sustenance, His own ability to control and 
sustain Himself cannot itself be in question. 


Here again the attractions are obvious if we make Divine perfec- 
tion a matter of extreme transcendence. What transcends the struc- 
tures of being, what lies beyond and is not bound even by our laws 
of thought, cannot itself be in jeopardy of being compromised or 
subjected to the contingencies of existence. Plotinus sees the necessity 
for protecting the self-sufficiency of the One by its transcendence of 
all structures, and Aquinas accepts this in a modified form when he 
makes God capable of affecting the world but incapable of being 
affected by it. This is the traditional neo-Platonic emanation theory 
in which pow r er flows only outward and downward, and the upward 
reach is accomplished only by abandoning in turn each lower nature, 
so that what finally touches God is only a part of God Himself. This 
inability to be affected by the temporal events of the natural order is 
Aquinas 5 own way of insuring the Divine self-sufficiency in the face 
of the greater amount of activity and motion and involvement 
Thomas must ascribe to his God. 

Although all motion becomes a part of the Divine nature for both 
Spinoza and Hegel, self-sufficiency is preserved through the tradi- 
tional concept of actuality. That is, the total process will eventually 
become, and may always be viewed as, fully actualized. Even an 
extreme variety of motion does not introduce difficulties into Divinity 
as long as we follow the conservative avenue of achieving self-suffi- 
ciency (i.e., full actuality) . Leibniz essentially follows this alternative 
too. His God moves as human souls do, but no abandonment of 
traditional perfection is involved since the whole process will be fully 
actualized according to pre-established harmony. The choice among 
possibles and the ultimate non-actuality of some, all this is part of a 
necessary process which allows for no alternatives. Plato did not give 
necessity much prominence; but since the time of Aristotle, necessity 
has always been a means of assuring self-sufficiency, even in the face 
of a lack of the full actualization of all possibles. 

When any freedom of choice or any contingency is introduced 
into the Divine activity, then preserving the perfection of self-suffi- 
ciency becomes a not impossible but at least a more difficult task. 
Freedom lifts the bonds of necessity from the Divine activity, and 


necessity has always been the great preserver of self-sufficiency. Not 
a few theologians (e.g., Augustine) have been induced to bind God's 
action (and thus also man's) by necessity, for thereby no question is 
raised about God's self-sufficiency or His ability to create unopposed 
and to retain full control over His creation as well as Himself. This 
accounts for the resistance found within the tradition to placing any 
contingency within the Divine nature. The introduction of motion, 
as has been indicated, is not a particular difficulty; but the possibility 
of loss of self-sufficiency is difficult to guard against, and necessity is 
always a sure guarantee and a powerful guardian. 

The introduction of a range of unrealized possibles into the Divine 
knowledge requires that God's basis for decision be accounted for. 
Aquinas and Leibniz do this, but they simply make the criteria for 
selection themselves necessary and capable of yielding only one 
decision. When, however, the voluntarism of either a Scotus or an 
Ockham enters, the situation is more complicated. Now genuine 
alternatives must be allowed, although choice is never without a 
rational ground in Divinity. In such a situation it is more difficult to 
preserve the full control (and self-control) of Divinity while still 
preserving genuine alternatives in His activity of selection. Actuality 
and necessity, the traditional means for accomplishing this, are now 
ruled out, and new ways must be found to reach the classical goal 
of self-sufficiency. Without this quality, no First Principle is able 
from Himself alone to account for creation or to be assured of con- 
tinued or at least eventual control. There may be some today who 
simply prefer not to construct a theory of the Divine nature; but, if 
we do, it probably should include the more modern notions of free- 
dom, while at the same time preserving the classical distinction be- 
tween Divinity and humanity, i.e., His full self-sufficiency. Such an 
attempt will be made when freedom is discussed. 





Embracing perfection within the bonds of necessity is perhaps 
the clearest and most obvious way to protect the Divine self-suffi- 
ciency. Whenever the stress upon unrealized possibles makes such a 
controlling necessity impossible, then one way of preserving the 
Divine self-sufficiency (religiously expressed as "omnipotence") is 
through an increased stress upon "power" as a central attribute. 
Power may be a limited force as long as necessity controls (e.g., 
Aristotle), or it may receive slightly increased stress (e.g., Plato) 
even without necessity's full control, if perfection resides partly in 
another area (i.e., the Forms) and if power is at least sufficient to 
accomplish its creative task. When power as a Divine attribute re- 
ceives stress, motion seems necessarily involved in the control and in 
the operation of that power. Our natural power is often not suffi- 
cient to provide us with the control which we find necessary to pre- 



serve ourselves. Thus the Divine power must be infinite if it is to be 
thought of as perfect, particularly if the possible entities in the 
Divine intellect are postulated as absolutely infinite. From the ex- 
tension of possibility to an absolute infinity of possible entities, we 
derive the need for a perfect power to be itself infinite if it is to be 
able to exercise the requisite control 

For Plato power means rational control, and this is the soul's 
central characteristic. Soul always requires an involvement with 
motion (in fact, it is the ultimate source of motion), but this is no 
denial of perfection for a Platonist who idealizes the soul. Irrational 
and chaotic motion is a violation of perfection, but Plato attributes 
such motion to another source* A neo-Platonist would predicate (of 
his First Principle) neither rational motion nor irrational motion nor 
rest, but the One will be the unseparated source of all while yet 
transcending these distinctions. When Plato later (in the Sophist, 
247E) defines being as power, a new possibility is opened and 
power may be treated as perfection itself, expressed in a variety of 
modes with varying degrees of perfection. With a view of the iden- 
tity of power and being (which Plato himself never develops), 
"soul" and "form" can be reconciled, and motion need no longer be 
considered necessarily characteristic only of a lower order. 

Plato links power to stability of nature and to the lack of radical 
change in characteristics, both of which are central to Divinity. Suffi- 
cient power secures control, so that only that motion which indicates 
a lack or a loss of control need be considered imperfect. In a Platonic 
scheme power must be rationally directed and oriented toward the 
Good in order to be perfect, but the action and consequent motion 
of such a power only indicate its perfection. The patterns (i.e., the 
Forms) which guide such power do not themselves change, but the 
motion which is in accord with them is the very expression of perfec- 
tion. Plato's possible Forms are not infinite, so his principle of power 
(i.e., soul) need not be infinite in order to operate effectively. Con- 
trary to much prejudice, it is actually in Platonism, and its later 
development in neo-Platonisms, that the main example of motion as 
perfection is to be found. Aristotle offers a more limited example, but 


even he allows some types of activity and motion to be expressions of 

Development, motion, and seeking tend for Aristotle to imply the 
lack of an attained end, but we must not take this as casting an 
aspersion upon all motion. What we must inquire about is whether 
motion indicates the presence of an imperfection, as it so often does, 
or whether it represents instead the activity characteristic of Divinity. 
Power cannot be power without involving motion; but, if the power 
is sufficient for the accomplishment of its objective, then it can only 
be a limited perspective which would consider such motion an im- 
perfection. The majority of human motions do indicate lack and 
need, and their success or failure is a matter of contingency. Divinity 
is not restricted by its perfection from any activity it wishes to ac- 
complish, but such action cannot arise from lack or need. It must 
be the expression of its superabundance of power (perhaps however 
only brought to expression by an excess of love) . 

It is primarily from Aristotle, and not from Plato, that the at- 
tribute of rest receives its stress as a perfection. Aristotle prefers rest 
because he associates motion with time, change, and incompleteness. 
It is these three which are the questionable qualities, and rest is an 
important Divine attribute only as it stands for their opposite. No 
God can be subject to time in the sense in which we are, otherwise 
He could not be its creator. Change outside our control is essentially 
what describes our nature, and it is primarily this which cannot be 
ascribed to God. Our change is never perfectly within our control 
and is always subject to a radical form, i.e., passing away. Divinity 
may be subject to change, provided that its power is perfect and 
yields full control and that its nature cannot pass away. Incomplete- 
ness is not even incompatible with Divinity if it is the incompleteness 
of any given, temporal moment. However, our lives and all of nature 
are subject to ultimate cessation without completion, and a possi- 
bility of this kind will always remain incompatible with perfection. It 
is easy enough to deny any of the classical restrictions required by 
perfection, but it is very difficult to show that such an "imperfect 


God" is sufficiently able to perform the functions required of Him 
(e.g., creation or salvation) . 

Matter for Aristotle was incompatible with perfection, since it 
represented potentiality and thus the impetus to motion. Time is also 
a consequence of motion for Aristotle. Although this associates time 
principally with physical nature, it does not necessarily make it in 
every aspect incompatible with Divinity. If any motion were found 
consistent with Divinity's nature, Aristotle would find a form of time 
associated with it. His motion and form of life being different, God 
as the creator of all natural motion (and thus of time) cannot be 
subject to either motion or time in the same way that we are, but 
Augustine's discussion of time in the Confessions is an excellent 
example of the way in which a form of time may legitimately be 
ascribed to God. 

Plotinus can allow no motion or division to be within the One, 
although it is the source of these without itself exhibiting their quali- 
ties in distinction. This indicates the sense in which, whenever we 
deal with a single First Principle, any aspect of the natural world 
whatsoever must be ascribed to God as its source. It is a simple 
enough doctrine that an effect need not exist in its cause in the same 
way in which it comes to exist after gaining the independence of 
coming-into-being. At least in this sense of ultimate source, every 
quality or aspect of any entity within the natural order must be 
traced back to God as ultimate cause. Otherwise we either do not 
have a single First Principle or else it does not serve its rational ex- 
planatory function, which it must be able to do if it was able to 
effect and sustain creation in the beginning. This need not involve a 
doctrine of predestination, nor must it remove contingent responsi- 
bility from men. But it does set us the difficult task of reconciling 
(with the Divine nature itself) every predicate that is possible within 
the natural order, however differently such qualities may exist in a 
transcendent and perfect Divinity. 

Any theology which stresses infinite possible entities and a Divine 
actualizing will must give a primary position to power as a perfec- 
tion. "Will" is nothing but the control of power as it actualizes in 


accord with one (but not the only possible; standard of value. God 
becomes responsible for His choice and for the potentialities of good 
and evil present within His elected structure of being, but He is not 
necessarily responsible for every contingent choice of man. God's 
motion in the activity of selecting at the moment of creation repre- 
sents not Imperfection, but the operation of His infinite, and hence 
perfect, power. Such motion internal to the Divine nature, resulting 
in the constitution of a natural order outside of it, represents the 
basis within Divinity for the natural sequence of time. Here the exer- 
cise of power is an evidence of the basic perfection required of a 
Divinity, i.e., its self-sufficiency. God's power remains fully actual 
in its applicability, even if vast numbers of possible individual entities 
necessarily remain as potential within His nature. His absolutely 
infinite power retains ultimate control; He is perfect. 





It is interesting to note that the usual formulation of the famed 
"Ockham's razor" (entities must not be multiplied without neces- 
sity) does not seem to appear in Ockham's writings. Rather, he 
often uses a form of the traditional maxim: plurality is not to be 
posited without necessity (see Reportatio II, qu. 150). The meta- 
physician will immediately recognize this as simply the usual theo- 
logical goal of preserving a simplicity of basic ontological structure. 
Infinity was rejected by Aristotle partly on the grounds that its in- 
definite multiplicity would destroy the simplicity necessary for his 
theory of knowledge. As the powers of reason become expanded, the 
urgency to reject infinity was reversed, since if infinity is brought 
within reason's control it no longer violates either the simplicity 
necessary for ontological structure or for knowledge. Plotinus is often 
considered the prime advocate of simplicity in a First Principle, but 



Ockham's use of the traditional phrase indicates how widely recog- 
nized is the norm of simplicity among theologians. 

Simplicity ought not to be confused with unity. Actually unity is 
only one way of achieving the goal of simplicity which can be 
reached through the use of other concepts (i.e., form). Simplicity, 
then, is an important concept, perhaps second in importance only to 
self-sufficiency, but it is a relative term. That is, ontologists have 
provided for it through the use of various concepts, all the way from 
Plotinus and absolute unity to Spinoza and absolute infinity. There 
is no one avenue, then, which a modern ontologist needs to follow, 
nor need he reject the desirability of simplicity as a primary charac- 
teristic for a First Principle simply because he objects to one his- 
torical way in which this has been achieved. Contemporary interest 
in theology may be pursued, but the modern ontologist must either 
satisfy the requirement of simplicity in his basic structure or demon- 
strate that this classical requirement may be set aside without dis- 
astrous consequences (e.g., paralyzing division). Simplicity as a 
concept, of course, is not an end in itself; it is a primary concept 
(i.e., a norm) for theologians because of the desirable consequences 
of its presence in Divinity and the difficult problems which appear 
in its absence. 

Simplicity, therefore, is a desirable characteristic primarily be- 
cause it prevents division. Some theologians allow distinctions to 
remain present within the Divine nature, whereas some do not; all 
theologians exclude division. If self-sufficiency has been shown to be 
the chief, if not the only, basis for making a radical distinction be- 
tween God and man, division also serves as a crucial and basic 
means to separate the First Principle from all that follows after it. 
Every created thing is capable of division. Such a capacity is helpful 
in allowing us to deal with multiplicity as we must do, and it makes 
possible the removal from us at times of undesirable parts. But this 
beneficial characteristic is capable of being carried to extremes, until 
our very nature is divided against itself, paralyzing action and often 
resulting in destruction or even in the loss of our nature (e.g., schizo- 
phrenia). Such a ground for division, present within the very struc- 


ture itself, cannot be characteristic of Divinity, although nothing 
could be more indicative of human nature. We can be destroyed and 
can destroy because of our potentially divisible nature, and the 
natural world is such that it allows this division to take place. In 
Divinity the presence of simplicity makes that nature basically dif- 
ferent, i.e., not subject to these faults. 

What makes a God "Divine" is his immunity to the internal 
grounds for destruction always present within man and nature . This 
does not at all mean that Divine perfection is not the source for 
every quality and characteristic found within the natural order; it 
must be so, or else there cannot be a single First Principle. On the 
other hand, God cannot be the source for and the creator of the 
realm of nature unless He exists in some mode that gives Him cre- 
ative power sufficient to this awesome task. The Divine nature pos- 
sesses every natural trait, but He does so in such a way that these are 
held together and their divisive or destructive powers are neutral- 
ized; simplicity accomplishes this crucial task. The presence of sim- 
plicity in a controlling fashion, sometimes sought for by men but 
seldom achieved, makes possible the presence of an absolute infinity 
of entities (some realized and some not) without the least fear of 
causing a division within the Divine nature. 

Simplicity also has a logical or epistemological role which re- 
quires that it be made central to any description of Divinity. The 
purpose of constructing a metaphysical First Principle is to explain 
the multiple and perhaps conflicting phenomena which seem too 
great in variety and extent to explain themselves. This is not a scien- 
tific explanation, although the process is similar to that of reference 
to a theory or law; but "God" does explain by serving as a point to 
which all phenomena may be referred as to their source, whether 
directly or indirectly. No explanation results if the phenomena and 
the First Principle both exist either in the same mode or with equal 
multiplicity. "Explanation" takes place when natural phenomena 
come to be seen as pre-existing in a different and in a higher mode, 
as in a source which itself requires no further reference. And it is the 
quality of simplicity which makes the First Principle higher in mode 


of existence (i.e., Divine) and renders further tracing of causes un- 
necessary. A restless intellect in search of causes can only be satisfied 
and come to rest in this way. Simplicity alone explains* 

The way in which simplicity is achieved (and with it a resolution 
of the Intellect's restlessness) varies in each classical metaphysic, but 
simplicity can always be found operating either explicitly or im- 
plicitly. It is the hallmark of those thinkers whose writings have been 
preserved out of the too vast store of man's written word. Their 
thought has managed to embody this principle, to give simplicity to 
their multiple thoughts. The distinctive characteristic of all "clas- 
sical" metaphysics is that within a given constructed intellectual 
framework it is possible to reduce the great multiplicity of life and/or 
nature to a few (if not a single) central concepts in terms of which 
much is brought into intellectual resolution, i.e., explanation. Many 
important metaphysical writings are an absolute maze of sentences 
and sometimes baffling concepts, but beneath this surface men have 
time and again made the discovery of an essential simplicity of First 
Principles and of explanation made possible by referring a great deal 
to a few concepts. This quality distinguishes the writer who becomes 
"classical" from his equally subtle and perhaps profound con- 
temporary. The simplicity of formal style and analysis demanded by 
so many moderns is but the surface and thus superficial counter- 
part of this basic or underlying simplicity of First Principles which 
is the mark of the clear philosophical Intellect. 

At first glance Plato's preference for the principle of "mixture" 
(primarily in the Philebus} might seem to go against the supposed 
requirement of simplicity. Actually, what Plato's preference for 
"mixture" indicates is the variety of ways in which a simplicity of 
ontological principles can be maintained. Plato's basic principles are 
about three in number in the Timaeus, which indicates Plato's ulti- 
mate plurality of principles, but this certainly evidences some degree 
of simplicity of structure at the same time. In the Philebus he will 
allow no unmixed life to be the ideal, but the principles which guide 
mixture (the Good, harmony, etc.) indicate that this strictly con- 
trolled process (i.e., mixing the elements which we allow to enter 


into our lives) Is itself one effective way of achieving simplicity. 
Harmony guides mixture and is surely itself another form of sim- 
plicity. At the end of the Philebus the Good cannot be described 
by one idea but must be pursued by three. Unity is given second 
place in importance for a mixture that is controlled by the Good, 
which is neither indefinitely multiple nor absolutely one in concept; 
but simplicity remains the goal even when harmony rather than 
unity is its means. 

Perhaps most characteristic of both Spinoza and Plotinus is the 
ultimate duality of metaphysical viewpoint which is always present 
in their writing. Within the structure constructed by both men any 
aspect may be viewed in two ways (e.g., in time or under eternity; 
looking toward the One or looking away from it). However, it is 
also true that both men give an unquestioned preference to one 
perspective over the other, although both viewpoints remain ulti- 
mately possible. "Under eternity" and "toward the One" are to be 
preferred because of the contrasting simplicity which they yield. The 
intellect finds under the preferred perspective a reduction of multi- 
plicity, a simplicity of conceptual framework and the opposite of the 
tendency toward division which the second and more common per- 
spective represents. The conversion of the intellect is to a new per- 
spective which yields simplicity precisely because it comprehends 
multiple phenomena and a variety of modes of existence in terms of 
a causal source whose own structure is, if not absolutely simple, at 
least less complex in structure. 

Philosophers have always tended to label as "mystical 55 any view 
which requires that rational discourse at any point be set aside. 
However, the more responsible representatives of such a tran- 
scendental tendency have always been quite clear and detailed as to 
the reasons why such a "passing beyond 33 is necessary. Such writers 
are quite rational and articulate in pointing out their reasons for 
considering that rational discourse becomes inadequate at certain 
crucial points. Plotinus sees that reason necessarily depends upon dis- 
tinction, and It is not a reckless anti-rationalism which makes him go 
on to place the exact nature of the One above rational discourse; it 


is his desire to insure simplicity. Plotinus is a good representative of 
those writers who are aware of the defects in the natural order that 
flow from the possibility of division and its dependence upon the 
multiplicity inherent in distinctions. Others, such men claim, repre- 
sent the Divine nature as possessing all too many of the same flaws 
inherent in the natural order. Simplicity is the perfection which dis- 
tinguishes God from men, and Plotinus is a rigorist who sees this as 
demanding the denial of even the distinctions necessary for logical 
and rational structure. All structures and entities are present within 
the One, but present as in a cause and under a mode of absolute 
simplicity which makes rational structure not applicable at this level. 
Reason is operative beginning only on a secondary level where dis- 
tinctions begin to appear in sharp contrast. 

On the other hand, Ockham is a thinker who never relaxes 
rational structure, and the result is that for him only a complex 
concept of God is possible. The best we can do is to sort out the at- 
tributes we feel to be necessary to Divinity, but the concept we con- 
struct can never be such as to exhibit the ultimate reconciliation of 
these attributes with one another. Language depends upon clear 
distinctions and so yields at best a concept still complex, whereas 
perfection strives for simplicity in Divinity. Here Ockham grasps the 
reason for the unsatisfactory feeling we have about even the best 
descriptions of the Divine nature. The language in which these must 
be stated requires a more complex structure than we feel able to 
attribute to God Himself. This is the basic incongruity which all 
theologians have struggled with: the commensurability of a complex 
language structure with the natural order but not with the simplicity 
necessary to Divine perfection. 

What we can do with language we must do, since the meaning of 
theology requires that we speak. For example, the "ontological argu- 
ment" is a means of bringing the mind to an awareness of the prob- 
lems involved in the basic inadequacy of concepts that are of 
necessity based upon a complexity characteristic of the natural order. 
We construct a complex concept of Divinity, achieving as much sim- 
plicity of structure as possible, and then perhaps proceed via the 


negative method to deny the appropriateness of the aspects that are 
inadequate because of the complexity necessary in conceptual form. 
However, such a problem becomes most extreme for those theo- 
logians who stress the priority of unity as perhaps the most nearly 
adequate term for Divinity. Simplicity, as has been shown, can be 
achieved through less severe means, and the modern tendency has 
been to find a more basic complexity in Divinity and then to find 
divine attributes powerful enough to encompass this and to provide 
for simplicity through control. Leibniz' discussion of the possibles 
and the compossibles illustrates this more modern problem. 

In any view where unity is stressed, such as Plotinus*, there cannot 
be either unrealized possibles in the First Principle or possible in- 
dividual entities which are not compossible. For unrealized possibles 
require at least one ultimate distinction, i.e., between those which 
are actualized and those which are not. Often such a situation calls 
for a decision to be made by the First Principle, an activity of which 
the Plotinian One is incapable. Even more serious is the presence 
within one framework of possible entities which are not all corn- 
possible, particularly if the criteria for selection are not absolutely 
binding (as they are for Aquinas) but are such as to allow God 
some alternatives. If a contemporary ontology stresses the priority 
of an absolute infinity of possible individuals, then the achievement 
of Divine simplicity will be more difficult, but it is also all the more 
necessary. Such an ontology will remain essentially within a rational 
framework (although various levels may be distinguished), because 
the distinctions which rational thought needs will remain, and di- 
vision within Divinity must be prevented in ways more difficult than 
that of placing God beyond reason's basic distinction (i.e., the dis- 
tinction of thought and its object) . 

Plato prevents division and achieves simplicity through harmony 
or proportion, as accomplished by the self-sustaining activity charac- 
teristic of soul, all of which is guided by reference to a realm of 
Forms themselves more simple and self-sustaining than the world 
which embodies them. Both Plato and Aristotle represent a compro- 
mise and achieve simplicity without resorting to a perfect unity 


that would demand transcendence. Even more than does Plato, 
Aristotle uses the limiting qualities of form as characteristic of his 
unmoved mover, orienting its attention only toward its own actual- 
ized thought, since the potentiality inherent in matter is the very 
epitome of the possibility of division. Plotinus always stands as the 
champion of an unrestrained demand for unity as the central per- 
fection, with its absolute guarantee of simplicity and the impossibility 
of division, but also with its necessary transcendence of direct ra- 
tional grasp. It must not be overlooked that multiplicity is present 
within the Plotinian One, in the sense that it contains the causes for 
all intellectual and natural phenomena. But such variety is present 
without the distinctions which hold entities apart from one another 
and so could not possibly be a source of division (that is, until this 
multiplicity becomes structured within the confines of being). 

Augustine's God tends to have the simplicity of unchangeableness, 
although this requires the predestination of the natural order. What 
cannot change surely cannot fall prey to division, but then neither is 
any alternative action open to such a God nor in any essential sense 
to men. Aquinas allows alternative possible worlds to exist in the 
mind of God but preserves unchangeableness and thus simplicity by 
making the selection of the possibles in the act of creation a process 
without alternatives even for a God. "Will" is a more important 
concept for Thomas because of the presence of these unactualized 
possibles, but the selection that such a will can achieve is de- 
termined for it without alternative. A further guarantee of the 
Divine simplicity is present in Aquinas' denial that creatures have 
any real relations with God, although He stands in a relationship of 
a creator to His creation. What cannot be touched from below can- 
not possibly be subject to division from any outside force. 

With Scotus and Ockham, however, we find more status given to 
relations, particularly to mutual relations between God and man. 
For Hegel relations become ultimately real and God cannot even 
be God without encompassing every possible relationship. Under 
such conditions simplicity is difficult to maintain, but Hegel does it 
by making the development of the relations a necessary process, 


hence incapable of being divided by the freedom of alternative routes. 
Spinoza's simplicity Is similar to this, that is, the simplicity of an 
absolute infinity which excludes nothing and therefore has nothing 
outside of itself capable of causing any difficulty. When all can be 
viewed as necessary and without alternative, then all relations and 
all entities can be introduced into the Divine life (along with an 
infinite reason capable of comprehending them), and still there need 
be no fear of a loss of simplicity via division. This is, to be sure, not 
the simplicity which strict unity provides but the simplicity of a 
complex and yet fully realized system. No unrealized possibles can 
remain and no alternative courses of action can be seen. 

With unrealized and non-compossible possible entities, the main- 
tenance of simplicity is more difficult, although a freedom of alterna- 
tive structures is also more easily achieved. Leaving this issue until 
the next section, it is still easy to see that simplicity is necessary to 
Divine perfection (to distinguish its existence from that which de- 
pends upon it) but that this simplicity may be achieved in a variety 
of ways. Moreover, this variety of approaches is possible due to the 
fact that it Is not so much simplicity itself as the lack of potentiality 
for division (and thus change of nature) which must be prevented. 
The harmony and proportion of Plato prevent division as success- 
fully as the unity of Plotinus, although in some sense the latter at- 
tribute achieves a greater simplicity. The introduction of possible 
entities into the Divine nature presents a more difficult problem in 
that other Divine characteristics must now be stressed (e.g., power 
and will) . The possible entities in the Divine mind no longer them- 
selves provide the insurance against division as they did in the days 
when their actualization was without alternative. To free creative 
action and yet to preserve Divinity's perfection (self-sufficiency), 
that is the contemporary ontological problem. 





In The Idea of Perfection in Christian Theology, R. N. Flew 
traces the concept of ethical and spiritual perfection through its 
history within Christian life and writing. In a much more modest 
fashion, this brief essay has attempted to develop a counterpart to 
the type of perfection with which Flew has so comprehensively dealt. 
Although it is not entirely decisive, the ontological concept of Divine 
perfection certainly has a great deal to do with the formation of any 
idea of ethical and spiritual perfection. We do not all agree as to 
what God's perfection is like, and our decisions about Divine perfec- 
tion will affect the kind of perfection which we deem to be desirable 
or attainable by man. The latter may be a consideration which 
comes to our attention prior in time, but Divine perfection is cer- 
tainly ontologically prior and the more important concept for us to 
form. The mystical, and even the monastic, life is closely linked to a 



concept of Divine perfection in which transcendence is stressed. If 
God did not transcend ordinary categories, the separation from life's 
common ways would not be necessary and might even be mislead- 
ing. The spiritual attitude toward prayer, not to mention the ethical 
attitude of responsibility, are almost entirely dependent upon some 
view of the Divine freedom and foreknowledge. 

Any particular view of the form of the religious life, then, depends 
for its sanction upon the reference to a particular concept of the 
Divine perfection. Contrary to popular opinion, in the use of any 
term which has application to both Divine and natural beings, it is 
the Divine meaning which is normative and which determines that 
term's varied employment in human affairs. We may begin with the 
question of "will" as it relates to man's action, but a conclusion 
about its proper employment comes only after we have constructed 
a theory which shows its use in characterizing the Divine nature. To 
be sure, the Divine employment will differ from the human use of 
the term, but specifying the difference of its application within the 
Divine nature will at the same time yield a specification of that 
word's proper human use. All important concepts (e.g., being, good, 
will, etc.) have a Divine application, from which alone proper 
human usage can be determined. 

It is not the ordinary but the extraordinary use of language which 
reveals to us its substance. For the trivial events of life perhaps no 
Divine reference is necessary. But for most of the important concepts 
that are applicable to man, the contrast of the Divine with the 
natural application of the term is helpful. Certainly a language may 
be worked out along solely naturalistic principles; but, if a concept 
of Divinity is to be constructed, then one of its major functions ought 
to be to give precision to terminology through contrasting the Divine 
nature with all the important human concepts. For example, the 
central term under consideration here, "freedom," cannot have its 
boundaries determined until we have decided what freedom means 
as applicable to the Divine nature. If freedom in God means absolute 
necessity and also self-determination, then freedom for man can 
only mean necessity too, coupled however (because he is finite) with 


a lack of complete self-determination (e.g., Spinoza). God's nature, 
being as It is the source of our created order, is too determinative to 
overlook whenever we work out the applicability of terms within 
the realm of nature. 

Does this mean that it is an easy or a simple matter to know God 
directly? No, all that is implied is that a possible theory of the Divine 
nature always needs to be constructed. "Possible" in this case is 
determined by the accumulated criteria provided by the major views 
of the Divine nature, contrasted with the magnitude of the data in 
the natural order for which such a Divinity must provide an ac- 
count. Able to answer classical requirements and able to give an 
explanation for the form of the natural order such a theory can be 
called a possible theory 7 of the Divine nature. In some non-verbalized, 
spiritual life God may be quite real and singular in nature. All 
spoken religious life, however, becomes Itself a theory, subject to 
human variation and to the difficulties that any transcendent expres- 
sion encounters within a linguistic framework (since theories are 
possible only in terms of words or concepts). Theoretically, the var- 
ious concepts of Divinity are multiple, and all that we can require 
of any man is that he be able to demonstrate the possible existence 
and the possible explanatory usefulness of his concept of the Divine 

Since God has no lips He cannot speak, which Is another way of 
saying that every "word of God" must come from human lips. This 
means that we have much indirect but no direct word about God 
and by God. Were it otherwise, we would have but one religion and 
one doctrine of the nature of God. With no direct word available or 
possible, what can we learn by indirection from the very situation of 
the multiplicity of the views themselves? Variations in our theories 
about God indicate the multitude of the possible qualities within the 
Divine nature which can be variously (i.e., humanly) apprehended. 
Our only danger is one of limiting God to our particular possible 
apprehension, thus denying the absolutely infinite extent of the pos- 
sible entities within the Divine nature. What shall we do to dis- 
tinguish among conflicting and competing theories and to reject 


those which might be unacceptable? Here a concept of perfection is 
a necessary but not a sufficient condition for selection. To serve as an 
explanatory cause for creation, a Divinity must be shown to embody 
perfection, although no single set of standards for fixing this concept 
can be established in advance. 

Although this is not the place to point out the limits of the ques- 
tion of how we may distinguish the acceptable from among the un- 
acceptable theories of the Divine nature, it is proper to note the 
similarity here to Plato's concern in the Phaedrus. Not all possession 
of an individual by passions and psychological forces (e.g., love) is 
necessarily bad. In fact, some of the greatest blessings come by 
means of madness, but by a madness which is Divinely inspired. 
Therefore, all who speak at any length about God are possessed men 
(since the object of their conversation is outside the natural order), 
and it is our task not to reject psychological possession by non- 
natural forces but to try to distinguish that which reveals Divinity 
from that which results from a demonic possession that is all too 
frighteningly similar to it. The creative expression of theologically 
dominated men that is what the "word of God" means. Such a 
creative use of w r ords presents a word in a way in which it has not 
quite been presented to the world before, because such a word now 
represents the Divine possibles. To assess such an expression means 
to locate it within the Divine nature, to see what sort of a possible it 
is within God's life. This is a human word now transposed to its 
location within the Divine possibles and as such made revelatory of 
God's nature. 

Why as human beings do we write about metaphysics at all? To 
give definitive formulations to solutions proposed, or to provide the 
mind with material for consideration? Of necessity it must be the 
latter, for the creative use of all important terms (i.e., representing 
them as they exist among the Divine attributes, as the original source 
of the natural order) itself prevents an exact understanding of these 
terms solely from their previous usage. The extent of the Divine 
possibles is itself what allows such a variety of meanings to become 
attached to terms, since there is nothing in the world which might 


not have been otherwise. The lack of fixity of an exact meaning to 
all important terms Is an evidence of this fact. All new discourse 
about God of necessity cannot be simply factual It gives common 
terms new meanings to bear. Thus, the creative expression of the 
Divine nature takes terms of human origin and attempts to alter 
their meaning to make them suitable to the Divine. Given the per- 
fection of God and the natural incommensurability between our 
language and such a being, the words used about God are bound to 
change and bound to change their meaning. We must turn to ex- 
pressions of past ages for help, but we can never utter exactly the 
same words again, language and God being what they are. 

If we consider the particular concepts at issue here (freedom and 
volition ) , the problem we face can be seen clearly. We must come to 
understand such terms through a study of at least some of their his- 
toric uses, but it is obvious that under no conditions can these con- 
cepts apply to man and to God in exactly the same way in a new 
age. A concept of Divine perfection must be constructed to de- 
termine what the resulting deficiencies will be if these ordinary terms 
are applied to God. But to do this means to say a great deal about 
God when He has said no single direct word about His nature to all 
of us. What do we do, then? We construct a theory of an absolute 
infinity of possibles and then of a Divine nature sufficient to en- 
compass them. However, oriented as we now are away from natural 
objects toward the possibles in the Divine nature, our terms will be- 
gin to shift in meaning and in that sense old terms will become 
novel. The creative process is at work within human language, and 
the Divine as well as the demonic possessive forces will again need 
to be distinguished from each other. 

As such, "freedom" and "volition" are modern problems. This 
does not at all mean that classical writers did not consider such 
concepts. Aristotle specifically states that no action can be considered 
moral unless it is voluntary. The only uniquely modern characteristic 
of these concepts is their recent centrality. Freedom and volition 
used to be considered human qualities within an ontological frame- 
work to which the terms could not really be applied. With the intro- 


ductlon of possibles into the Divine nature and their reconciliation 
with perfection, these two concepts came to have a meaningful ap- 
plication to Divinity and to the ontological framework in general. 
As long as necessity governed both Divine action and the ontological 
order, freedom and volition could at best be only minor human 
problems without a foundation in the natural order itself. The 
medievals in considering God, and then the moderns in considering 
nature, in turn become aware of a lack of necessity about the Divine 
and the natural order. Now freedom and volition have become 
major issues with an ontological and a Divine application as well as 
a human one. 

Sometimes these modern considerations are posed by asking about 
"personality," i.e., whether its central characteristics apply to Di- 
vinity (or even to nature) in such a way that man's ontological 
structure is not unique. The nineteenth century took the model for 
its ontological structure from the self, until the classical problems of 
transcendence disappeared, and God, nature, and man (and thus 
the language applicable to all three) became very close in structure. 
The stress upon human characteristics as ontologically revealing has 
been continued by existentialism into our own day. What we now 
need is to recover a sensitivity to classical problems, in which a First 
Principle could not be spoken about easily, since its structure dif- 
fered so from our own. The nineteenth century has spent its energy 
with incredible fruitfulness. Today we require that "freedom" and 
"volition" receive attention, but this time against a more classical 
background we must ask about the appropriateness of their on- 
tological and theological attribution. God, the world, and man need 
to be seen as contrasting structures. Man will always be temporally 
prior, but the construction of a theory of Divine perfection ought 
once again to become ontologically prior and the first order of theo- 
logical business. 

Considering "volition" first, it is evident that both Plato and 
Aristotle gave it a central place within human nature and made its 
proper employment (i.e., as rationally trained and guided) the very 
condition for achieving freedom (i.e., freedom from dominance by 


passion). Volition in Divinity, however, is another matter. Ob- 
viously, for Aristotle such a term could not apply to his unmoved 
mover, for volition indicates something sought for and thus some- 
thing lacking in that nature. The unmoved mover's activity of 
thought is self-sufficient and complete-in-itsdf, and a will which 
could produce a volition would actually introduce a defect. Plato is 
somewhat more complicated. If we take the Forms as the embodi- 
ment of perfection, then the incompatibility of volition with perfec- 
tion is even more obvious than in Aristotle. However, in contrast, it 
is a different story when we consider "soul," and particularly the 
"world maker" of the Tinmeus. Plato obviously applies "volition" 
to such activity; and yet, in its perfect embodiment, this does not 
require freedom. The possibility for alternative action is character- 
istic only of imperfect men; the world maker creates because he is 
good and not grudging. It takes volition to release his creative 
power, but his actions have no alternatives open to them. Here is the 
source for one long-dominant theory of Divine perfection. 

With Plotinus and Dionysius the Areopagite the situation is some- 
what altered. Soul and its volitional capacities are much more cen- 
tral to perfection than in the usual Aristotelian-derived views. But 
neither volition nor freedom can really be said to characterize either 
the One or the super-essential Godhead as such. Creative energy 
flows from the creative source, but volition is not a characteristic 
distinct from the objects to which such energy is applied, until we 
reach a level outside the First Principle. Volition as a power requires 
a definiteness and a presence of distinction that prevents man from 
attributing it to his Divinity as a perfection. Freedom can be applied 
to the First in an interesting way, however, in the sense that it tran- 
scends all the bonds and distinctions characteristic of being's struc- 
ture. The First is thus itself free from all of the restrictions present 
in the levels created by it, although this is a freedom of the tran- 
scendence of rational structure and never the freedom of alternative 
action. Choice would require the presence of unacceptable distinc- 

Augustine's early picture of perfection seems very close to Roman 


rational necessity, but in the later writings this becomes modified to 
include volition and other aspects of personality. Yet the classical 
restrictions against contingency and change prevent Augustine from 
ever allowing volition in God to imply any genuine choice among 
alternatives at least as rationally knowable. The pattern of the 
future, Augustine is quite sure, is fixed unchangeably in the Divine 
knowledge. The outcome of God's activity and the process of nature 
are clearly embraced in a classical view of essential unalterability. 
Yet creation ex nihilo has altered the picture for Augustine. Time 
now has a different position within the Divine nature, since God is 
the source of all that is in time. The power of God is also stressed, 
which means that the possibility of alternative selection (particularly 
as regards salvation) becomes real for Augustine, However, the on- 
tological framework Augustine uses is not such as to allow freedom 
of choice without imperfection, and so the inscrutability of the 
Divine volition must be postulated. Any scheme of creation and sal- 
vation introduces alternatives; but, with a metaphysical framework 
that cannot deal with them, perfection is preserved by placing the 
basis for decision beyond human scrutiny and making its outcome 
fully determined and foreknowable throughout eternity. 

Augustine introduced novel problems but did not alter the basic 
ontological framework. Aquinas subjects the operation of the Divine 
will in decision to scrutiny, and he finds its selection of alternatives 
fully rational but also fully determined by other aspects (e.g., good- 
ness) of the Divine nature, Thomas makes the Divine alternatives 
real; Ockham makes them possible and raises volition to a more 
central place in Divine perfection. As we progress chronologically, 
freedom has been growing in meaning as ontological alternatives 
have increased. When volition becomes central to Divinity, then 
freedom may mean more than an absence of exterior determination. 
Nevertheless, Spinoza will revert to a more classical view. Such 
freedom as Ockham postulates subjects the whole order of nature 
to contingency, although the Divine nature itself is not similarly con- 
tingent. Volition present within creation is a source of contingency, 
although God's own nature is not itself contingent. That is, God is 


contingent only as Including an infinite set of possible individuals, 
some of which He never selects for inclusion in nature and others of 
which, although they are definitely real potentials, become depend- 
ent upon nature's contingency for their actualization. 

Existentialism resembles a form of Hegelianism in its use of per- 
sonality as the central metaphysical object, yet it is actually the exis- 
tentialists who have reintroduced a stress upon volition and freedom 
where Hegelian derived views have been almost classically de- 
terministic. The discovery of genuine alternatives available to human 
volition has reopened the question of volition as a Divine character- 
istic, although volition can never be a part of God in exactly the 
same way that it characterizes men. The existentialists suffer from 
the modern restrictions against constructive metaphysics and the- 
ology, and this constricts their formation of theories about God's 
nature. Such a speculative task is required, however, in order to 
disclose the ontological sources of possible human volition. Necessity 
characterized both knowledge and perfection for Aristotle. To be 
such that it could not be otherwise was for him the very mark of 
stability, and volition was a sign of weakness. The problem, then, is 
to permit Divine volition without damaging self -sufficiency or power. 

If volition is to be attributed to Divinity, necessity cannot char- 
acterize the act of creation, although necessity may still be applied 
to the Divine nature as a whole. Contingency may characterize 
Divine action, but not the substance of the Divine attributes them- 
selves. In human nature contingency characterizes both action and 
the instruments of action that is, man's attributes are themselves 
contingent in their performance. Here is the basis for the question 
of attributing "pereonality" to Divinity. Choice necessarily involves 
distinctions, and as such these distinctions could not be characteris- 
tic of the Plotinian One. Personality is central for Plotinus but not 
compatible with perfection at its fullest. If personality is to be at- 
tributable to Divinity, necessity can no Idnger characterize Divine 
action, although the Divine nature always is necessarily what it is in 
its inclusion of attributes. Choice is based upon volition, which in 
turn depends upon the presence of distinctions and of a range of 


possible Individual entities in themselves unactualizable but out of 
which the Divine selection is made. Personality in this sense is per- 
haps attributable to Divinity without involving the defects so char- 
acteristic of human personality. 




If the thesis of this essay is true, then "perfection" is the most 
important concept in establishing a view of the Divine nature and in 
determining man's relationship to that First Principle, both in 
nature and in knowledge. If "freedom" provides a more con- 
temporary perspective on perfection, and if freedom is determined 
by the way in which "volition" is to be attributed, then what hap- 
pens to the other central terms relating to perfection (infinity and 
unity, form and transcendence, self-sufficiency and actuality, power 
and motion, simplicity and division ) when freedom becomes the cen- 
tral issue? Obviously, there is no one, single way to specify Divine 
perfection. These twelve concepts (freedom and volition, plus the ten 
listed directly above) tend to be the ones which cluster around the 
classical definitions, interrelated in a way that involves the definition 
of all of the others in the specification of the use of any one term. 



Certain metaphysical views about the nature and origin of the 
natural order influence our choice of which terms are most impor- 
tant. We can indicate possible views of perfection and the advantages 
and disadvantages which accompany each concept. We can never 
fix on a single view as alone being adequate, although the historical 
writings help us to see what a concept of perfection must include if 
it is to become available for theological use. 

An ability to eliminate inadequate views (i.e., ones which are not 
capable of sustaining the Divine life internally) but not to fix on 
any single view or even to limit the number of possible views of per- 
fection is, as pointed out above, a revealing fact both about the 
Divine life and about human language. The more important the 
concept, the more language becomes subject to variation and the 
more obvious becomes our inherent inability to fix a single meaning 
for the term. Thus, every new discourse about Divinity will evidence 
this flexibility of meaning which language exhibits whenever it con- 
cerns Opd. In turn, this tells us something about God : His nature is 
such that it contains the unlimited number of possibles to which our 
unending discourse is a painful testimony. The prosaic and unimpor- 
tant details of human life can be expressed simply and in final 
form. However, the more complex aspects of existence begin to 
evidence the same basic involvement in an indefinitely extended 
possibility that appears when we approach Divinity. God has no 
need to speak about Himself, but when men use their only tools, 
words, their unending speech proclaims their involvement in an 
absolute infinity of possibles which only a perfect Divinity could 
control with success. 

Infinity, it is easy to see, is important for any concept of perfec- 
tion which takes as its starting point the question of freedom. If the 
world is limited in possibility, human freedom may still be attainable 
but human creativity will be somewhat restricted. If infinity does 
not apply to God, then He has no alternatives to work with, since 
our finite series would be the only candidate for actualization. When 
infinity applies to God, as freedom seems to demand (particularly if 
it is an absolute infinity of kinds), then infinity becomes a central 


Divine attribute and requires the involvement of possibility in the 
Divine nature, if all of such possibles are not capable of eventual 
actualization. An infinite time span need not admit such full actual- 
ization, although it does as Spinoza conceives of it, but the limited 
time span required by a doctrine of creation means that a choice 
from among possibles becomes a necessity. From here on it is the 
details of accounting for this choice which determine whether free- 
dom is central to perfection, or whether necessity is preserved in the 
face of infinite possibles by making the process of selection itself 

Unity will necessarily receive a less than dominant place among 
the Divine attributes, if we begin with freedom as the central con- 
cept. Freedom requires choice and choice depends upon alternatives, 
and successful choice can only take place when the alternative pos- 
sibles remain clearly distinct. Freedom thus prevents the extreme 
transcendence of reason which unity taken alone might demand. 
Nothing is per se beyond rational grasp, since freedom cannot be- 
come irrational choice for God as it can for men. Unity still involves 
transcendence of a kind, since it requires that the Divine intellect be 
such as to grasp simultaneously all possible entities for consideration. 
Our intellect would only destroy itself by attempting such a feat. 
Man's intellect shares infinity in the sense that it is actually ap- 
plicable to the whole range of possibles, although at any given 
moment it considers only some perceived finite group. Infinity is 
not alien to our intellect and does not impede its operation. It speeds 
the creative process, but it also prohibits our desire to achieve a 
definiteness not subject to alteration. Lacking the infinite power of 
Divinity, we still face His intellectual task, and this discrepancy is 
the source of both our creative powers and our intellectual despair. 

Form can be made compatible with infinity, even an absolute 
infinity of kinds, if the intellect applicable to them is itself actually 
infinite. This is the argument from the infinite extent of possibility 
to the infinity of the intellect comprehending them. Man's intellect, 
although applicable, does not simultaneously grasp the whole 
range which distinguishes man from God and indicates why for 


men infinity often seems indefinite and may appear to lack form. 
Man's intellect is applicable to a wider range than Aristotle could 
see, but its limited grasp at any instant always makes the unlimited 
range open to it seem from a distance to be formless. Freedom re- 
quires that form not be transcended, since form is a requirement for 
rational choice. A Divinity bound by necessity can transcend form 
and still cause form to be present in a lower order. But a Divinity 
which must choose freely what that order is to be cannot operate 
where form is absent. Thus, freedom demands the ultimate main- 
tenance of form in the Divine nature, although never any single 
form or set of forms. 

Transcendence is neither the transcendence of form nor of dis- 
tinctions. It is the inaccessibility to immediate grasp of all of the in- 
finite possibles. Men transcend their immediate environment, and the 
provincial terms of their language, when they try to determine what 
possibles remain, either as potentials within their presently actualized 
structure or as alternatives to that original structure itself. Creative 
imagination goes even beyond the bounds of the actualized order to 
explore possibles as God Himself explores them eternally, as alterna- 
tives to the various parts of our order and even to the natural order 
itself. God transcends our grasp, as holding within His intellect in 
consideration all possibles simultaneously, although some of the 
actualizing process is now left to nature and to human will. The 
Divine nature is transcendent in that it stands behind creation as its 
cause, the primal creative process of choice itself erecting a barrier 
which man can guess about (in Plato's phrase construct * 'likely 
tales" ) but never transcend. Whatever we discern about God may 
be expressed. Language is not transcended, although the possibility 
of final statement is. 

Self -Sufficiency is the main problem that a theory which begins 
with freedom must face. For freedom in man is often the very evi- 
dence of his deficiency in this respect. Lack of stability in internal 
structure, failure to maintain a decision to actualize these form a 
large part of man's freedom, but they also represent his imperfection 
most dramatically. Thus, from the human side, it is easy to see why 


self-sufficiency has been preserved as the core of Divine perfection, 
although it has been maintained through various means. Yet free- 
dom need not be ultimately incompatible with perfection, although 
self -sufficiency will be the shared characteristic which is least ap- 
plicable to man and most applicable to God. Change is not even 
incompatible with self-sufficiency, although it is perhaps the most 
dangerous characteristic for man. Control is the key to the main- 
tenance of self-sufficiency, so that freedom as applied to God must 
be construed so as to preserve perfect control, an attribute absolutely 
essential to a creator who is to be the single First Principle. 

Actuality will then become the continual actuality of self-suffi- 
ciency, not necessarily the absence of change or lack of motion. Of 
course, actuality can no longer mean that every possible is slated for 
concrete realization, or else Divine freedom has no area of operation. 
In this sense, potentiality remains within Divinity, but it is a self- 
selected potentiality and stands in contrast to a fully organic and 
self-sustaining natural order. Divine self-sufficiency need not be 
construed so as to depend upon a full actualization of all possibles; 
thus freedom of choice can be preserved without destroying perfec- 
tion. The material processes of the world can be viewed as having 
their origin in Divine creation, as being from His own nature with- 
out involving Him necessarily in the difficulties of potentiality. The 
created order exists outside the Divine nature, and a perfect and 
infinite intellect is able to comprehend every aspect of the natural 
order without difficulty. Like most classical perfections, actuality 
must be maintained as a Divine perfection, even if not in the spe- 
cific form of any particular classical view. 

Power becomes perhaps the attribute most central to a concept of 
perfection which begins by considering freedom. For it is power, so 
to speak, that holds the Divine nature together. When unity is cen- 
tral, nothing needs to be held together. When possibility is either 
limited or fully actualized, there is no chance of disruptive conflict. 
But when possibility is absolutely infinite and the Divine attributes 
are made multiple, then power is crucial and must be absolutely 
infinite m its extent. Here is perhaps the most dramatic distinction 


between God and man. Although never comprehending, man's in- 
tellect is actually applicable to the full range of the infinite possibles 
present to God; but the powers of men, although they vary in de- 
gree, are never other than finite. This imbalance between degree of 
power and range of intellectual grasp is the sburce of most (but by 
no means all) human evil. Power in God as fully infinite is expressed 
in the actual selective act of His will, completely adequate to actual- 
ize all possibles, although not all simultaneously. Human nature fal- 
ters, not only in sometimes failing to recognize incompatibles s but in 
desiring more possibles than are within its own grasp or power to 

Motion must be present whenever power expresses freedom. 
Human motion sometimes attains its end and sometimes fails, if its 
power is not sufficient to sustain it. Motion is, then, quite compatible 
with Divine perfection if the range of power present is always ca- 
pable of supporting any decision without contingency, which in God's 
case requires an absolutely infinite power. Motion, however, is still 
not a primary characteristic of God as it is of man, although it will 
be possible to Him. Motion was required for the creative act; and, 
in a religious view, it would be required again for any miracle, a 
miracle being a kind of partial re-creation of the natural order. Any 
Divine intervention or appearance, and certainly the process of end- 
ing or of transforming the life of the natural order or of an indi- 
vidual, all would require motion. But the continued life of the 
Divine excludes the variety and constant motion that is so character- 
istic of less perfect orders. 

Simplicity must also be preserved, by means of control via power, 
in any concept of perfection based upon freedom. Unity and neces- 
sity classically were responsible for this important characteristic, but 
in the face of the absolute infinity of possibles such a desirable goal 
can still be achieved by power. Human life, carried out as it is 
among a limited range of possibles, is subject to complexity largely 
due to our failure to actualize or to maintain a choice once actual- 
ized. Divinity does not suffer from this same limitation of power, 
although the kind of simplicity which infinite power constantly main- 


tains is not the lack of distinction and of alternates which classical 
views often demanded. The simplicity here is one of constantly main- 
tained choice. The actualization of possibles did not have to occur as 
it did, but the element of absolute certainty involved in the process is 
that of knowing that any choice will be perfectly sustained by an 
application of infinite power. Simplicity here is the simplicity of the 
changelessness of a Divine decision. 

Division is thus not possible within Divinity, whereas men are 
sometimes as much divided after a decision as they were before and 
during the selective process. Traditionally self-sufficiency, unity, and 
lack of motion were all aimed at removing from the Divine nature 
any possibility of division. Now the presence of distinction, particu- 
larly In the sense of non-compossible possibles, would seem to make 
division possible, the most unacceptable situation for Divinity which 
a classical writer could imagine. Although it must be asserted in one 
sense that such a division within God is possible for a view which 
makes freedom basic, it must at the same time be said that such a 
possibility is Incapable of being realized, due to the constant pre- 
serving bond of Divinity's absolutely infinite power. The basis for 
division is present within God, but its actualization is of necessity 
constantly prevented. That is one thing which makes God to be 
God and sets Mm forever apart from human failure. 

The basic sets of concepts necessary for perfection have now been 
constructed in outline around a concept of freedom. What can be 
said about some of the other questions which are so often related to 
the concept of Divine perfection? "Will" perhaps needs little com- 
ment, since volition and power are the two components which consti- 
tute will. What will is depends upon the power available and the 
direction and consistency of volition. As these go, so goes will. The 
question of "foreknowledge" perhaps requires a greater extension of 
the basic concepts developed here. There is no individual possible 
entity not directly and eternally present within the Divine nature and 
not constantly In that intellect's apprehension. The extent of these 
possibles is absolutely infinite, but so is the range of the Divine 
intellect. No possible as concretely embodied in the natural order is 


"within" the Divine nature, although it is still within the range of 
the Divine intellect and power (which are extended outside Himself 
in any act of creation or in any miracle). No possible entity within 
the Divine intellect as such is subject to change, but some receive no 
concrete embodiment and others depend upon the contingencies 
of human actualization. Nothing is per se new to God, since no pos- 
sibles are outside of his constant grasp, but the concrete decisions of 
human agents are grasped concretely only as actualized in time. 
God's internal knowledge never changes; His information about the 
creation existing outside of Him does change in detail but never in 
general outline or as introducing any unforeseen possibilities. 

"Being" is ultimately applicable to God, or else freedom could 
not be basic to perfection. Being includes the range of the infinite 
possibles and the other essentials of the Divine nature, i.e., volition, 
power, intellect and the possible standards for goodness. Being as 
applied to the created natural order includes these same five basic 
attributes, but now applied to an actualized finite group. Because 
these attributes exist primarily in an infinite mode and are actualized 
as finite only by an act of power and volition (will), aspects of in- 
finity are everywhere present within the natural order. This is par- 
ticularly so in the areas of volition and intellect, where we find no 
actual boundaries definitely marking them off from their infinite 
origin. Power and goodness bear much more clearly the marks of the 
necessary finite range open to created beings. 

"Non-being" derives its principal meaning from the self-contra- 
dictory possibles, which are not as such present within the Divine 
intellect in actual apprehension but are present by negation. Every 
entity has within itself a relation to a version of itself containing self- 
contradiction, into which it is always possible for it to fall and to 
lose that measure of its present being. Other than the ever present 
self-contradictory counterparts of each possible entity, non-being is 
present within being in the traditional Platonic form of "otherness." 
To be what each entity is (including God) it must also be not-every- 
other-possible-entity (just as it must be not-its-self-contradictory- 
counterpart) . In these two senses non-being is inescapably present 


within Divinity and within each possible being; and, since pos- 
sible negative relations are infinite, non-being is present to each finite 
entity to an infinite degree. The Divine power, being itself abso- 
lutely infinite,, in its own life keeps such non-being within perfect 
control. With no such range of power available to sustain us, and 
with a natural tendency toward both positive and negative infinity 
within each actual entity, what is amazing is the extent of balance 
actually achieved in the created order. The considerable lapse to- 
ward non-being, or the indefiniteness (for the creature) of infinity 
about which we are constantly aware, is in fact not nearly so star- 
tling as the possibility of achieving even temporary balance. 

"Chaos" enters the natural realm as a normal part of its existence. 
It reflects no similar lack of order in the Divine life but rather the 
inability of a creature with limited power to resist the constant 
temptations of infinite desires or the tendency to lapse into non- 
being, whether intentionally or not. Power had to be granted at the 
instant of creation sufficient to preserve a basic order and the pos- 
sibility for order within human affairs. But the discrepancy between 
this necessarily finite power and our openness to infinity means that 
our limited power can fail and chaos can replace order. Partly this 
represents the possibility of our actualizing any one of several orders. 
Indecision, not always a deficiency of power, can often be the cause 
of chaos. The potentials which result in our chaos are certainly 
within the Divine nature, but His power coupled with His steady 
volition and range of knowledge keeps chaos ordered in a manner 
that is not available to human beings. 

"Good" and "evil" are perhaps the most difficult concepts to 
handle, and therefore they are a testing ground for every meta- 
physical theory. Metaphysics is never born in ethics (although the 
desire to use its explaining power may be), but it is here that it often 
receives its test. Good vs. evil is the most pressing and persistent lay- 
man's problem. // freedom is to be the starting point, then standards 
of value must be ultimately multiple. However, since they cannot be 
standards if they equal in number the entities to be judged, the 
standards of value themselves must be less than absolutely infinite. 


Following Plato's maxim in the Parmenides, we would then do well 
to accept some definite number of possible standards, although we 
are always powerless to say exactly what number. Standards are not 
indefinitely numerous, but they are multiple, which accounts for our 
lack of agreement in ethical theory. Conduct is subject to variation 
according to the standards men actually select to embody in their 
practice. God's selection of entities in creation eliminated some 
standards and perhaps gave us an inclination toward certain others, 
but only a similarity of standards is possible among men, never an 
identity. This is as far as the abstract analysis can go; in order to 
be specific, value theory must turn and deal with the facts of each 
concrete life. 

God's choice in creation was actually subject to much the same 
conditions. No single standard for goodness binds either Him or His 
action in creation, although His nature is such as can easily ac- 
commodate all of the finite number of possible standards. Being 
Himself good, God was bound to recognize some, but not all, value 
standards in creation. Thus, His action remained essentially free, 
although it was restricted to a finite number of possible combinations 
involving certain sets of standards. His creation was in that sense 
good, although it was not necessary, and it was not by any means 
the only possible combination of value standards. Since possible 
standards are always multiple and lack the rigid necessity of singu- 
larity, it is always possible for men to hold to a selected set of stand- 
ards or to violate values at any time, often in the name of other 
values. Hence the presence of "evil" (plus the limitations on power, 
volition, and intellect previously described), and such is its source in 
a Divine nature not itself ever actually evil. 

The ascription of "positive attributes" to Divinity is, quite ob- 
viously, always possible within this theory. Negative procedures, 
however, are still necessary in that no attribute can be given to God 
without first distinguishing between God and creatures and then 
denying of the term the aspects which are found to be inapplicable 
to God. No term, deriving as it does from our normal language, is 
applicable directly to God without first applying a negative pro- 


cedure, which In turn depends upon a theory of the Divine per- 
fection. The establishment of this theory, which is to become the 
standard for negation, itself depends upon first denying of Divinity 
any aspect which would render it incapable of its actual act, i.e., 
creation and its maintenance. The possibility of positive attribution 
does not necessarily mean that this theory asserts that God is easily 
knowable. Before very much can be done in the way of construction, 
a whole philosophical and theological tradition must be mastered. 
However, a theory of perfection which is constructed around free- 
dom does remove many of the insuperable obstacles to direct knowl- 
edge that are present in many traditional theories. 

Since positive attribution is at least possible, even if it cannot be 
absolutely definitive, such a theory has an obvious kinship to the 
method of univocity. Equivocity is associated with a theory of per- 
fection which involves extreme transcendence, and analogy is a 
special and controversial view which tries to preserve a ground for 
knowledge even when the object is agreed to be above direct grasp. 
As ought to be obvious, nothing could be more futile than arguing 
for a theory of language which uses terms for Divine attribution as 
unlvocal. The issue lies not in language or in our use of terms but 
in the theory we construct about the Divine nature and the mode 
of knowledge applicable to such a nature. When the concept of 
Divine perfection is worked out, then it will always be easy to see in 
what sense ordinary terms may be appropriated. 

What is to be concluded? What we have arrived at after much 
difficult consideration is not God Himself, but merely one theory 
about God which we can assert with confidence to be fully possible. 
It is not the business of metaphysics to decide among such possible 
concepts as still remain. It may guide the theologian to the promised 
land of usable concepts, but it is forbidden to any metaphysician to 
decide upon the precise place and moment of the Divine entry into 
the possibles, which knowledge alone could yield a single, incontro- 
vertible theory of both nature and the Divine nature. To outline 
and to work within a limited number of possible theories such is 
man's intellectual and moral limit and his required task. 



Plato: Laws, Bk. X; Parmenides; Phaedrus, 245C-256E: Philebus, 
58C-67B; Republic, 376E-392C and 5Q2C-509C; Sophist; Timaeus, 

Aristotle: Generation and Corruption; Metaphysics, Bk. Lambda; 
Nicomachean Ethics, Bk. X; Physics, Bks. Ill, VIII. 


Plotlnus: Enneads (See especially the treatises of the Fifth and Sixth 

Enneads, and 1.8 and III.2.) 
Dionysius the Areopagite: The Divine Names; Mystical Theology. 


Augustine: The Trinity, Books I, III, V, VI, XV; Concerning the 
Nature of the Good; Confessions, Books XI and XII; Divine Provi- 
dence and the Problem of Evil; Enchiridion; Free Will; Grace and 
Free Will 

Anselm: Monologium, Chs. I-XXVII; Appendix in Behalf of the Fool; 


Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica, Part I, QQ. 2-49; Summa 

Contra Gentiles, Bk. I. 
William of Ockham: Philosophical Writings, ed. P. Boehner, Chs. 

VII-X; Studies and Selections, ed. S. C. Tornay, "On the Ideas of 

Duns Scotus: De Primo Principio. 


Meister Eckhart: "About Disinterest"; "Talks of Instruction;" and se- 
lected Sermons, 

Nicolas Cusanus: Learned Ignorance, Bk. I. 




Spinoza: Ethics, Part I; Cognitata Afetaphysica; Principles of Des- 
cartes* Philosophy, Pt. I; Tract atus Theologico-Politicus. 

Leibniz: Theodicy^ Part I; Discourse on Metaphysics^ I-XVI; Monad- 
ology, 31-90; The Ultimate Origination of Things. 


Kant: Critique of Pure Reason, "Transcendental Dialectic"; Critique 

of Aesthetic Judgement, "Analytic of the Sublime"; Religion Within 

the Limits of Reason Alone. 
Hegel: Phenomenology of Mind, "Revealed Religion" and "Absolute 

Knowledge"; Early Theological Writings ;, Trans. Knox and Kroner; 

Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion. 


Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics., Vol. II, part 1 : The Doctrine of God. 

New York, Charles Scribner's Sons. 
Bergson, Henri. Creative Evolution. Modern Library ed. New York, 

Random House, 1944. 
Bonaventura. Breuiloquim. Trans. E. E. Nemmers. St. Louis, B. Herder 

Book Co., 1946. 
Bolzano, Bernard. Paradoxes of the Infinite. Trans. Donald A. Steele. 

New Haven, Yale University Press, 1950. 
Brunner, H. Emil. The Christian Doctrine of God (Dogmatics., Vol. I) . 

Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1950. 
Farrer, Austin. Finite and Infinite. Westminster, London, Dacre Press^ 


. The Freedom of the Will. London, A. & C. Black, 1958. 

Flew, Robert Newton. The Idea of Perfection in Christian Theology. 

London, H. Milford, Oxford University Press, 1934. 
Foss, Martin. The Idea of Perfection in the Western World. Princeton^ 

Princeton University Press, 1946. 
Garrigou-Lagrange, Reginald. Christian Perfection and Contemplation. 

St. Louis, B. Herder Book Co., 1937. 

Hartshorne, Charles. The Divine Relativity. New Haven, Yale Univer- 
sity Press, 1948. 

. Man's Vision of God. Chicago, Willett, Clark & Co., 1941. 

. The Logic of Perfection. LaSalle, 111., Open Court Publishing 

Co. (in preparation) . 
Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Trans. John Macquarrie and 

Edward Robinson, New York, Harper and Brothers, 1962. 
Philo Judaeus. The Unchangeableness of God and The Account of the 

World's Creation. In Philosophical Works. Loeb Classical Library 

ed. Cambridge, Harvard University Press. 
Temple, William. Nature, Man and God. New York, St. Martin's Press, 

1953. Part I. 
Tillich, Paul. Systematic Theology. Chicago, University of Chicago 

Press, 1951. Vol. I. 

Weiss, Paul. Modes of Being. Carbondale, Southern Illinois Univer- 
sity Press, 1958. 

Whitehead, Alfred North. Process and Reality. New York, Humanities 
1957, Part V, 



absolute infinity of possibles, 49 
action, 17, 18, 48, 51, 59, 65, 75, 111, 

114, 125, 134, 145 

actuality, 26-27, 32, 38, 44, 46, 48, 
57, 61, 66, 77, 79, 89, 106-107, 116, 
134, 136, 140, 142 

and self-sufficiency, 104-111 
alienation, 55, 75 

alternatives, 63, 67, 123-24, 132-33, 
137, 142 

genuine, 65, 111 
logical, 65 

freedom of, and alternatives, 125 
Anselm, 36-42, 102 
and creation, 
by idea, 42 
from nothing, 42 
and immutability, 39-40 
and infinity, 41 
and non-temporality, 41 
and omnipotence, 41 
and ontological argument, 40, 56 
and perfection, degrees of, 39 
and predication of perfections, 40 
and self-existent cause, 42 
and supreme good, 41 
and transcendence, 40-41 
Appendix (Anselm), 41 
Aquinas, Thomas, 43-53, 64, 68, 73, 
78, 84, 89, 94, 102, 107, 109-111, 
123-24, 133 

and actuality, priority of, 46, 47 

and contingency, 47 
and eternity, 46 

and existence as most perfect at- 
tribute, 46 

and faith as knowledge, 47 
and grace, 46 
and immutability, 46 
and infinity, 44-47 
and limitation, 46 
and necessity, 68 
and negative approach, 45 
and possibles, 

doctrine of, 47 
infinity of, 47 

and problem of knowledge, 47 
and rest, 46 

and reversal of Aristotle's concep- 
tions of limitations and in- 
completeness, 45 
and simplicity, 45 
and transcendence, 46, 48 

rejection of, 45 
and trinity, 45 

Aristotle, 22-26, 37, 44-47, 58, 66, 
73, 87-88, 90-91, 93, 98-99, 104- 
106, 108-110, 112-15, 117, 123-24, 
130-32, 139 

and actual and potential, dis- 
tinction between, 26 
and actuality, priority of, 58 
and the complete, 24, 35 
and completion, 23-24 


152 INDEX 

Aristotle (Continued) 

and contemplation, 25-26 
and defimteness, 23 
and eternity, 27 
and forms, 22, 26 
and infinite, 
actual, 25 

corporeal, denial of, 44 
material, 25 
potential, 25 
and infinity, 

as potentiality, imperfection 

of, 44 
compatible with form and 

actuality, 45 

rejection of, 25, 27, 45-46 
and intelligibility, 23-24 
and knowledge, theory of, 29, 117 
and limitation, 23, 25, 26 
and the limited, 24, 35 
and motion, 24 

rejection of, 23 

and time and incompleteness, 


and necessity, 24-25 
and rationality, 25, 28 
and rest, 26 
and transcendence, rejection of, 


and unity, rejection of, 26 
and unlimitedness, rejection of, 

and the unmoved mover, 24, 28- 

29, 44Mtf 
attributes, contradictory, 57 

infinite, 60 

Augustine, 29, 36-42, 44, 55, 65, 74, 
102, 115, 124, 132-33 
and change, as evidence of per- 
fection, 37 

and evil, doctrine of, 37 
and foreknowledge, doctrine of, 


and immutability, 37 
and infinity, 38 

and predestination, doctrine of, 

and soul, doctrine of, 37 

and time, 37-38 
doctrine of, 38 

and transcendence, lack of, 37 

and trinity, 37, 38 

and unity, as a secondary perfec- 
tion, 37 

and wisdom, 37-38 

beauty, 23, 24, 91, 100 

being, 29, 31, 33, 35, 46-47, 50-51, 

63, 78, 92, 99, 101-103, 113, 116, 

127, 143 
being, transcendence of, see transcend- 

cause, 67 

immediate, of action, 37 
self-existent, 42 
ultimate, 115 
cause-in-another, 33, 106 
cause-of-itself, 33, 51, 60, 63, 106 
change, 26, 37, 104, 105, 114, 140, 

142, 143 
Chaos, 78, 93, 95, 144 

caused by indecision, 144 
completion, 22-24, 35, 44, 88, 114 
Confessions (Augustine), 115 
connection, 57 
consciousness, 73, 74 
contemplation, 25, 26 
contingency, 32, 51, 61, 67, 94, 110- 

111, 114, 133-34, 143 
contradiction, 56, 58, 95, 107 
control, 23, 24, 111, 140 

rational, 23 
creation, 48, 51, 61, 64, 67, 79, 94, 

109, 111, 115-16, 124, 129, 133- 

34, 140, 143-45 
creation, from nothing (ex nihilo) 3 

42, 48, 66, 133 
Critique of Aesthetic Judgement 

(Kant), 70 
Critique of Pure Reason (Kant), 70 

Cusanus, Nicolas, 53-58 
and actuality, 57 
and attributes, contradictory, 57 
and contradiction, as applicable 

to God, 56, 58 

and identification of infinite ac- 
tualization with absolute pos- 
sibility, 58 
and learned ignorance, doctrine 

of, 57 

and negative approach, 55 
and possibility, central! ty of, 58 
and rationalism, extreme, 57 
and realization of all possible per- 
fections, doctrine of, 56, 58 
and transcendence, 55-57 
and unity, 55, 57 

Darwin, 79 
definiteness, 23 
Descartes, 90 
determinate, 38, 128 
Dionysius, 29-35, 44, 46, 53, 57, 101- 
102, 132 

and Christian attributes, 34 

and First Principle, as beyond 
perfection, 35 

and negative approach, 33 

and personality, 34 

and symbolism, 34-35 

and transcendence of being and 
reason, necessary, 29, 33 

and trinitarian concept, 34 

and unity, 29 
division, 117-25, 136, 142 

Eckhart, Meister, 53-58 

and attributes, primary and sec- 
ondary, 54 

and disinterest, doctrine of, 54- 

and emptiness, 54-55 

and love and unity, 54 

a neo-Platonist, 54 

and nothingness, 55 

INDEX 153 

and quietude, 54-55 
and trinity, 54 
emptiness, 54 
Enneads (Plotinus), 28 
equality, 57 
equivocation, 79, 146 
essence, 46 
eternality, 37, 46, 49 
eternity, 27, 32, 38, 48, 62-63, 79, 

evil, 33, 37-38, 62-68, 93-94, 116, 

141, 144-45 
existence, 46, 60, 61, 75, 119 

most perfect of things, 46 
existentialism, 7, 78, 131, 134 

faith, 47 
Feuerbach, 7 
finity, 32 

First Principle, 18-19, 29-35, 50, 109, 
111, 113, 115, 117-19,123,131-32, 
136, 140 
Flew, R. N., 126 
foreknowledge, 37, 127, 142 
form, 23, 44, 4748, 88-90, 92-93, 
96, 102, 104, 113, 118, 136, 138-39 
and transcendence, 98-103 
limiting qualities of, 124 
infinity as lacking, 139 
Forms, 22, 24, 31, 88, 107, 112, 123, 


freedom, 32, 48-49, 51, 60-61, 63-64, 
66, 68, 78, 94, 110-11, 126-43, 

of action, 37 
for God and man, contrasted, 127 

God, conceptions of, 

based on the way God acts, 19 

epistemological, 18 

in action, 1 7 

metaphysical, 18 
God, nature of, 

difficulty of knowing, 17 

disagreements over, 17-18 

in theory, 18 

154 INDEX 

God (Continued) 

theories about opposed to knowl- 
edge of, 18 
set apart from other natures by 

perfection, 19 

good, 51, 62-63, 65, 116, 127, 144 
Good, the, 23 ? 28, 33, 92, 100, 120- 


goodness, 46, 48, 64, 66, 133, 143, 145 
grace, 46 

harmony, 24, 91, 110, 120-21, 123, 


Hegel, 7, 29, 53, 70-80, 89, 91-2, 
96, 102-103, 107, 109-110, 124, 

and Absolute, 73 
and abstract and concrete, 75 
and actualization of non-com- 
possibles, 79 
and alienation, 75 
and history, unfolding of, 76, 79 

as revelatory, 77, 79 
and incarnation, 74 

and death, 75 
and inclusiveness, 72 
and motion, 72 
and personality, 74, 79 
and philosophy of organism, 73 
and process, 73, 76, 78 

and struggle, 75 
and pure soul, 72 
and reason, not transcended, 73 
and relations, 72 
and Spirit, 74, 75 
and substance as subject, 73 
and suffering, necessity of, 78 
and truth, coherence and system 

as criteria of, 73 
and unity, 75 

and plurality, 78 
Heidegger, 84 
history, 76-77, 79 
Hume, 69, 70-71, 76 

Idea of Perfection in Christian The- 
ology, The (R. N. Flew), 126 
identity, law of, 3031, 35 
Immutability, 37-40, 46 
imperfection, 67 
incompleteness, 25, 28, 114 
indeterminacy, 25, 51, 63, 75, 95 
infinite, 32, 41, 44, 62, 98, 144 

compatible with form and ac- 
tuality, 45, 47 

infinity, 25, 32, 33, 38, 44, 46, 58, 
66, 68, 77, 98, 101, 106, 117, 137- 
absolute, 60, 62, 90, 118, 128 

of kinds, 137-38 
actual, 25, 47 
corporeal, 44-45 
incorporeal, 45 
indeterminate, 48 
in kind, 62, 90, 95 
material, 25 
intelligibility, 23-24, 99 

Kant, 7, 70-80, 96, 102 
and ethics, 71 
and methodological criticism of 

theology, 70 

and possibility of direct state- 
ments about the Divine nature, 

and theology, metaphysically ag- 
nostic, 77 

Kierkegaard, 54, 78 
knowledge, 23, 88 
theory of, 29 

language, 103, 146 

poverty of, 10, 122, 128, 137 
extraordinary uses of, 127 
about God, 128 

not factual, 130 
not constant in meaning, 1 30 
Leibniz, 59-68, 90, 107, 110-11, 123 
and action, divine, subject to ra- 
tional necessity, 59 
and actuality, 66, 68 

and alternatives, genuine and 

logical, 65 
and best of all possible worlds, 

doctrine of, 65, 67 
and creation, 64 
and freedom, 64, 66, 68 
and good and evil, 64, 65, 68 
and inclination of the will, doc- 
trine of, 67 
and infinity, 68 

and necessity, absolute, 6668 
and non-contradiction, law of, 

64, 66, 68 
and possibles, 

doctrine of, 68 
infinity of, 68 
non-compossible, exclusion 

of, 66 

unactualized, 64 
and power, infinite, 68 
and predestination, 65, 68 
and universal harmony, principle 

of, 66 

and will, divine, rejection of, 59 
limitation, 23-26, 44, 46-47, 88, 99, 


limited, the, 24, 32, 35 
love, 54, 91, 114 

memory, 37 

Metaphysics (Aristotle), 24, 44, 87, 


miracle, as partial re-creation, 141 
mixture, 24, 120-21 
Monadology (Leibniz), 64 
Monologium (Anselm), 39, 41 
motion, 23-24, 26-27, 32, 48, 63, 68, 

72-73, 78, 99-100, 104-105, 108, 

110-11, 136, 140-42 

and power, 112-116 
motionlessness, see rest 
multiplicity, 57, 92-93, 95-96, 117- 

19, 121-22, 124 

necessity, 24-25, 32, 49-51, 59-61, 

INDEX 155 

63, 110, 112, 124, 127, 133, 138- 
39, 141 

absolute, 66-68, 126 
as protecting self-sufficiency, 109- 

10, 112 
lack of, 131 

negative approach (or attribution), 
30-31, 33, 39, 41, 45, 48, 52 S 55, 
58, 64, 79, 101, 123, 145-46 
neo-Platonism, 45, 53-55, 64, 93, 108, 

110, 113 
Nicomachean Ethics (Aristotle), 25, 


Nietzsche, 7 

nominalism, see Ockham 
non-being, 31, 33, 35, 52, 57, 63, 78, 


non-contradiction, 50, 64 3 66 
non-temporal, 41 

Ockham, 43-52, 59, 64, 66, 95, 102, 
107, 111, 117-18, 122, 124, 133 
and cause-of-itself, 52 
and First Principle, preferability 

of, 50 

and forms, rejection of, 49 
and freedom and contingency, 51 
and freedom of alternative action, 


and indeterminateness, 51 
and necessary action, 49 
and necessity of non-contradic- 
tion, 50 

and nominalism, 49 
and non-being, 52 
and the non-existent sense object, 

and possibles, 

absolute infinity of, 49 
unrealized, 51, 52 
and the unlimited, 50 
"Ockham's razor," 117 
Of Learned Ignorance (Cusanus), 55 
omnipotence, 39, 41, 46, 51, 112 
On the Divine Names (Dionysius), 

156 INDEX 

On Ike Soul (Aristotle), 29 
On the Trinity (Augustine), 36 
ontological argument, 40, 56, 122 

Parmonides, 29 

Parmenides (Plato), 24, 29, 57, 145 

passion, 132 


degrees of, 39 

as metaphysical, 20 

as moral, 20 

as religious, 20 

secondary, in soul, 23 

secondary, in unity, 37 
personality, 32, 33, 45, 74, 79, 131, 


Phaedrus (Plato), 108, 129 
Phenomenology (Hegel), 73 
Philebus (Plato), 23-25, 88, 120, 121 
philosopher-king, 23 
Physics (Aristotle), 44 
Plato, 22-26, 37-38, 57, 64, 72, 78, 
84-85, 88, 91-92, 99-101, 106-110, 
112-14, 120-21, 123-25, 129, 131- 
32, 139, 143, 145 

and beauty, 23-25 

and being, 29 

and control, 23 

and form., 23 

and Forms, 22, 24 3 26, 31 
doctrine of, 22 

and Good, 23, 27, 121 

and harmony, 24, 25 

and infinity, 25 

and knowledge, 23 

and limitation, 25-26 

and limitedness, 24 

and mixture, 24, 121 

and motion, 24 

rejection of, 23 

and necessity, 25 

and pluralism, 29 

and reason, 23 

and rationality, 24 

and soul, 23, 29-30 

and time. 38 

and transcendence, 23, 28 
and unchangeableness, 23 
and unity, as secondary, 121 
and unity and plurality, 24, 29- 


Plotinus, 23, 28-35, 37, 45, 53-55, 
57, 72, 89, 92-93, 100-102, 105, 
109-110, 115, 117-18, 121-25, 132, 

and beauty, 54 
and cause-of-itself vs. cause-in- 

another, 33 
and evil, 33 
and First Principle (or Good), 

29-32, 34-35 

and freedom from rational struc- 
ture vs. freedom of alternative 
action, 132 
and the good, 33, 54 
and identity, law of, 30-31 
and Intellectual Principle, 31-33 
and negative approach, 30-31 
and the One, 29-35, 56, 72 
and perfection, motionless nature 

of, 23 

and perspective, duality of, 31 
and power, 33 
and quietude, 54 
and simplicity, primacy of, 45 
and soul, 23, 29, 72 

non-material nature of, 29- 


psychology of, 29 
unity of, 29-31 
and transcendence, 31-32 

of being and reason, 28-29, 


and unity, 30-31, 33 
supremacy of, 29 
pluralism, 29 

plurality, 24, 26, 57, 63, 68, 78-79 
positive approach (direct attribution), 

38, 52, 79, 146 
possibility, 49, 51, 58, 60, 94, 140 

possibles, 47, 50, 66, 107, 112, 116, 
125, 131, 133, 137-38 

and compossibles, 123 

noncompossible, 142 

self-contradictory, 143 

unactualized, 48, 123, 125 
possibles, infinity of, 47, 68, 97, 123, 

129-30, 140-41, 143 
potential, 26, 32 

potentiality, 46, 48, 63, 77, 115, 140 
power, 33, 41, 51-52, 63, 68, 78-79, 
91, 125, 133-34, 136, 140-43 

infinite, 141-42 

limitation of, 141 

and motion, 112-16 
predestination, 37, 65, 68, 115, 124 
Pre-Socratics, 27 
process, 73, 76, 78 

and struggle, 75 
Proslogium (Anselm), 39, 41 
Pseudo-Dionysius, see Dionysius 

quietude, 54 

rationality, 24-25, 28, 37-38, 49 3 51, 
73, 78 

reality, 60 

reason, 23, 104, 122, 125 

reason, transcendence of, see tran- 

Religion Within the Limits of Reason 
Alone (Kant), 71 

Reportatio (Ockham), 117 

Republic (Plato), 23 

responsibility, 127 

rest, 23, 26, 32, 38, 46 

salvation, 115, 133 

Scotus, John Duns, 43, 49, 51, 59, 

61, 64, 66, 111, 124 
self-consciousness, 73-74, 78, 79 
self-existent, 41 
self-sufficiency, 32-33, 35, 46, 51, 62, 

77, 101-103, 116, 118, 125, 132, 

134, 136, 139-40, 142 
and actuality, 104-111 

INDEX 157 

Sentences, 43 

simplicity, 45-46, 67, 79, 136, 141-42 

and division, 117-25 
Sophist (Plato), 25, 113 
soul, 23, 29, 30-31, 37, 55, 65, 92, 

108, 113, 123, 132 

Spinoza, 18, 31, 59-68, 74-75, 78-79, 

84, 89, 90-91, 102-104, 106^107, 

109-110, 118, 121, 125, 128, 133, 


and action, divine, subject to 

rational necessity, 59 
and contingency, elimination of, 


and Creation, elimination of, 61 
and eternity, 74 
and freedom as necessity, 60, 61, 

and infinite attributes, doctrine 

of, 60, 62 
and infinity in kind, and absolute 

infinity, 62 

and motionlessness, 74 
and necessity, 61 

and possibility, elimination of, 60 
and reality, identification with 

perfection, 60 

and reality of all possibles, 64 
and substance, 

absolute infinity of, 60 
actuality of, 61 
as transcendent and imma- 
nent, 63 
and will, divine, rejection of, 59, 


Statesman (Plato), 78 
substance, 60 
Summa Contra Gentiles (Aquinas), 


Summa Theologica (Aquinas), 43-44 
symbol and symbolism, 34-35, 39, 57- 

words as, 39 

Theodicy (Leibniz), 6^-65 
Tillich, Paul, 53 

158 INDEX 

Timaeus (Plato), 22 9 24, 120, 132 
time, 26-27, 37-38, 48, 114-16, 121, 

trinitarian aspect of, 38 
transcendence, 23, 28-29, 31-34, 37, 
40-41, 45-46, 48, 53, 55, 78, 92, 
95, 110, 121, 127, 136, 138, 146 
and form, 98-103, 131, 139 
as the inaccessibility of infinite 

possibles, 139 

of comprehension, 58, 62, 78, 138 
trinity, 34, 37, 45, 54 
truth, 49 3 66, 73, 107 

unchangeableness, 23, 124 

unity, 26, 29, 30-31, 33, 37, 42, 46, 
55, 57, 60, 63, 72, 78, 98, 101, 103, 
117, 123, 125, 128, 136, 140, 141- 

and infinity, 87-97 
tension with plurality, 24 

univocation, 79, 146 

unknowabllity, 46, 96 

unlimited, 25, 32, 50-51, 91, 94, 96 

unmoved mover, the, 24, 29, 44-45, 
106, 124 
volition not applicable to, 132 

value standards, 144, 145 

via negativa, see negative approach 

volition, 126-35, 136, 142-43 

Whitehead, 87 
wilderness, 55 
will, 37, 51-52, 59, 61, 66, 91, 124- 

25, 127, 142 
wisdom, 37-39 
world-maker, 23-24, 132 

Comment on DIVINE PLK i . ; ; i ; \ : 

"This book will be genuinely useful 
to anyone who recognizes that spec- 
ulative problems usually underlie 
our practical differences concerning 
God. Frederick Son tag provides a 
basic account of the leading Western 
conceptions of God from Plato to 
Hegel. In addition, he makes an in- 
dependent study of the divine at- 
tributes from the standpoint of free- 
dom and perfection. Even those who 
cannot accept his position will profit 
from his straightforward presenta- 
tion of the main theories and his 
defense of the value of making a 
speculative approach to the divine 
nature." JAMES COLLINS, St. Louis 


Frederick Sontag has taught philos- 
ophy at Pomona College in Califor- 
nia since 1952. He was Visiting 
Professor of Philosophy at Union 
Theological Seminary, in New York, 
during 1959-60. He is a contributor 
to religious and philosophical pe- 

No. 0745B